In October of 1987, my father told me to pack and get in the car. We were headed to Mountain Home, Arkansas. I dreaded the drive to Arkansas. My father didn’t believe in stopping to see sites and this being the 80’s the windows were up, the air conditioning was on, and my father and stepmother chain smoked the entire way.
The trip was one of filial duty. The trips were not about the journey but the destination to visit my grandparents.
When we reached our destination my father and I both pretended to like fishing; I would play kick-the-can or baseball with the local kids, but the highlight of my time was sitting in the kitchen listening to my grandmother talk, or putzing around in the garage with my grandfather, listening to Jazz on the ancient transistor radio—never a word said between us.
Dorthy Jones, née Harrison was a daughter of the British Empire. Her father made his way from New Zealand to England to South Africa and then somehow to rural Illinois. His journey began as a cavalryman fighting for the Queen in the Second Boer War and ended as a horseman in Winona, Illinois, breeding thoroughbreds for the racetrack. Listening to my grandmother, I would learn valuable lessons like: “Water in a water glass, milk in a milk glass, juice in a juice glass. Only barbarians drink juice from a water glass.”
From this, I learned always to be mindful of the value of things.
I have not met many men more physically impressive than my grandfather, James Jones. He was 6’4 with movie star good looks. His attention was always solidly fixed on the task at hand, but his eyes were windows into the tragedy that was the 20th Century. My grandfather saw action in both WWII and Korea. It was the Korean War though that wounded his soul.
My grandfather didn’t talk much. But I treasured the time I got to spend just in his presence. I knew my grandfather was a hero from a generation of heroes. Even as a boy I knew that he fought in some of the worst battles in the history of mankind.
And those battles didn’t end for my grandfather on his return home. He battled with the bottle. Many nights he would go straight from the Ford plant where he worked as a tool- and die- maker to his favorite bar, the Ridgewood Tap in Homewood, Illinois. It still stands today. My father would faithfully wait outside to walk his father home.
The weight the Korean War bore on my grandfather was something I was aware of as far back as I can remember. My father always reminded me, “You can talk to your grandfather about WWII, but never bring up Korea.” The only time my father ever struck me was when an episode of MASH came on, and I thoughtlessly said, “Grandpa this is during the Korean War. You were in the Korean War.”
But this trip was different. There would be no fishing. No kick-the-can. No listening to my grandmother talk with the other ladies while they played bridge. And there would be no putzing around in the garage with Grandpa Jones. Grandpa Jones was dying. Our mission was to make it to Mountain Home before that happened.
I don’t remember anything of the drive. All I remember from the trip is that we made it in time for me to walk into his bedroom and sit by his side one last time.
My grandfather was more attentive to me than I can ever remember. He was also very much at peace. I could not stop crying. My grandfather told me, “Don’t cry, but if you must cry, cry for all the young boys that I had to see die who never had a chance at life. Never married, had children, grandchildren.”
Trained never to mention Korea, I said, “All the American boys you saw die in WWII.”
“Yes, for them,” and then my grandfather’s eyes filled with tears, “and all the boys not much older than you … American, Chinese, and Korean… all the boys… all the boys.”
“All the boys.”
My grandfather asked me to cry for the enemy. My grandfather asked me to share my tears for the boys that were trying to kill him. “Chinese boys… Korean boys.”
I am proud of my grandfather. I am proud of his strength, his courage, and his patriotism. But I am in awe of my grandfather—no plaster saint; a hard drinker, a barroom brawler, a Ford man—for loving his enemy. For carrying that love through his whole life and then sharing it with me.
When I look at my boys, and I see so much of my grandfather in them, I smile. But I also see so much of my father-in-law in my sons. My grandfather’s blood and the blood of my father-in-law, European and Chinese, run around my home clanging and banging and laughing and singing from sunup to sundown.
From the life of my grandfather, I have learned the values of things.
Thank you, President Trump.
To learn more about Jason Jones’s views regarding Trump and the Singapore Summit, read his latest column on the topic at The Stream: https://stream.org/the-korean-war-will-end-in-one-of-two-ways-peace-or-more-hiroshimas/