Obama's appointee comes from strong Marine lineage

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By Ron Van Stockum

President-elect Barack Obama has recently nominated Marine Corps General James L. Jones, Jr. to be his National Security Advisor.


In this position Jones will head the National Security Council, which has the function of advising and assisting the President on national security and foreign policies and coordinating these policies among various government agencies.

His uncle, William K. "Bill" Jones, was a contemporary of mine in the Marine Corps.  And this is the story of the elder Jones.

You may recall that in 1937 I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant directly into the regular Marine Corps from the ROTC program at the University of Washington and, after undergoing a year's training at the officers' Basic School in Philadelphia and a year at sea with the Marine Detachment on board the battleship Tennessee, I believed myself to be an old "salt."  The Corps' officers on active duty were all regulars, and we considered ourselves to be members of an elite group.

On Sept. 3, 1939, I was serving as a platoon leader in Company D in San Diego, and after going to the theater to see one of the greatest movies of all time, "The Wizard of Oz," I turned on the radio and heard British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declare war on Nazi Germany, which had invaded Poland on 1 September.

France followed suit in a few hours, and both nations had previously announced their support of Poland, should its territorial integrity be threatened.  The world had changed!

  The reserves arrive

In November 1939, lieutenants from the reserves, mobilized for the emergency and began reporting to the Sixth Marines, and among those was 2nd Lieutenant William K. Jones, who joined me as a junior officer in Company D.

We regulars had undergone such thorough training that we may have considered ourselves more highly qualified, but it did not take long for us to realize that some of these "quick learners" could catch up in a hurry.

Bill Jones impressed the company commander, especially by his ability to understand the automatic action of the Browning .30-caliber Water-Cooled Machine Gun, with which we were equipped.

We regulars also discovered, to our surprise, that the young ladies on the post, daughters of senior Marine officers [called Marine Corps juniors], did not discriminate between "regulars" and "reserves."

Later that year, I accompanied Bill Jones and another reserve officer who had friends in Mexico, to meet "dates" at Rosario Beach, a few miles south of San Diego.  En route, I remember joining them in loudly singing "South of the Border, Down Mexico Way."

Bill, like other reserve lieutenants, was an officer of many talents.  After the war, he published a small book of military cartoons, called "Baseplate McGurk."  (The base plate was the heaviest, 45 pounds, of the three components of the 81 mm mortar, usually carried by the largest member of the mortar platoon.)

  Jones & 1st Battalion, Sixth Marines

Although the United States did not become formally involved in World War II until what would be known as Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941, we began to build up our military forces, particular after Germany's invasion of France in June of 1940.

Many of us regular officers were transferred to form the nuclei of newly activated battalions and regiments, but Bill remained in the 1st Battalion, Sixth Marines.

In fact, in September 1943, he became Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, and in this capacity took part in four campaigns in the Pacific, including Tarawa (where he earned the Silver Star Medal and a field promotion to lieutenant colonel), Saipan (where he earned the Navy Cross), Tinian, and Okinawa.  He served continuously for six years in the same infantry battalion.

When I was serving in various Marine infantry command positions in the Pacific during World War II, there was an opportunity to remain informed through miniature editions of Time Magazine, flown in from the States.  I recall an article about Jones' accomplishments, containing high praise from his commanding general.

"Lieutenant Colonel Jones is the youngest battalion commander in the Pacific, and the best," he said.

In 1962 to 1964, when we were both brigadier generals, Bill and I served together in Washington on the staff of General David Shoup, Commandant of the Marine Corps.  I was Director, Marine Corps Reserve.

Bill, personable, urbane, a proven combat leader, served as Legislative Assistant to the Commandant and was responsible for relations with Congress.  He retired as a lieutenant general in 1972 and died in 1998.

  Gen. James L. Jones, Jr.

I never have met General James Jones, Jr., but his father, Major James L. Jones, Sr., was well known for his development of the Marine Corps Reconnaissance Battalion and as the central figure in a training film about its activities during World War II.

After the war, he left active duty and traveled to France, where he worked for International Harvester.  Here his son spent his formative years, in the process becoming fluent in French.  He returned to the United States to attend the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, from which he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1966.

General Jones, the future nominee for National Security Advisor, commenced his career in the Marine Corps in 1967, the year I retired from the Corps.

He had a distinguished military career, culminating in his assignment as Commandant of the Marine Corps [Commander of all Marines] from 1999 to 2003 and subsequently as the top NATO commander  - the first Marine ever to hold that position.  After retiring in 2007 he became president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy.

An imposing figure in stature and bearing, with top-level military and diplomatic experience, General Jones appears to be a popular choice for this significant position in the Obama administration.