Another WWII veteran passed away last week, but this man was very notable if you are familiar with the exploits of Japanese Zero pilot Saburo Sakai. Sakai wrote the book Samurai! (based on his Japanese memoir Ôzora No Samurai which translates to “Samurai of the Big Sky”). Harold Llewellyn Jones, the rear gunner in an SBD dive-bomber, fired on Sakai as the formation was being attacked from behind. On Memorial Day 1982, Jones and Sakai met face-to-face and shook hands.
The most unusual reunion between Sakai and 3 members of US Navy Squadron VB-6 was engineered by me. It took place at my parent’s house in San Gabriel, California (Los Angeles County). All the local TV news stations sent reporters to the house and they recorded this event. Sakai and Jones were eventually invited to New York where they were interviewed on the morning TV program called Today. Jones died at his home in Unionville, Nevada on October 21, 2009. [ Read Obituary ] He was born in Valley Wells, Texas on January 1, 1921 and joined in the Navy in 1939. He was stationed in Pearl Harbor on the carrier USS Enterprise and took part in the Battle of Midway and Guadalcanal.
On August 7, 1942 during the Battle of Guadalcanal, Jones flew as a rear gunner in an SBD Dauntless piloted by Ens Robert C. Shaw. The 8 dive bombers were led by Lt Carl H. Horenburger. They were circling Tulagi, waiting for orders to bomb, when two A6M2 Zeroes streaked in from behind. One of them was PO1/c Saburo Sakai.
Sakai was the first to spot the enemy and in his eagerness, he charged in. At about 300 yards, he realized that they were not F4F Wildcats, but SBD dive bombers! Alerted to the Zeroes, all 8 gunners were waiting for him. Sakai had no choice but to hurl himself into the gauntlet of enemy fire. He momentarily closed his eyes, hunkered down into the cockpit, and opened up with all of his guns.
“As the Zero coming directly in from astern was about 500 feet away, he started shooting,” recalled Jones. “Some of our gunners answered with their twin .30 caliber machine guns. Some gunners, including myself, could not bring our guns to bear on him without damaging our tails, but as the Zero turned to the right and pulled up to miss us, every gunner was shooting at him…he could have been only 100 feet away!”
“His cockpit exploded, the canopy tore, and something flew out,” continued Jones. “I could see his face clearly, his body and head forced back against the headrest of the cockpit. The plane went almost vertically upwards and then fell smoking. That was the last I saw of him.”
Sakai put 232 holes in Jones’ SBD and when they finally landed on the carrier, medical corpsmen brought a stretcher, thinking that he was either dead or seriously wounded. The belly armor in the back saved his life.
After the war, “Lew” Jones stayed in the Navy. He married his sweetheart Mitzi while training pilots at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He was on duty when five TBM Avenger dive bombers disappeared over the infamous Bermuda Triangle. He told me that there was nothing supernatural about their disappearance; they simply became lost and ditched at sea.
Jones retired from the Navy and went to Europe where he worked as a stock broker. He retired to the ghost town of Unionville, Nevada in 1971 when he bought an old farmhouse and some acreage. Unionville was a silver mining town in the 1860s and Mark Twain once lived there.
The Jones Family fixed up some buildings and started a bed & breakfast business there. It is called Old Pioneer Gardens. You can find them on the internet. I took my wife on our honeymoon there in 1982 and had a wonderful time! We went for a second visit in the early 1990s. Some Hollywood movie execs have booked their retreat there along with their staff as a working vacation. The actress Sandra Bullock once stayed there.
Lew Jones is survived by his wife Mitzi, 3 daughters, and a son Dave. Mitzi Jones and their 3 daughters are all registered nurses! Lew was one hell of a nice guy and he will be greatly missed. Saburo Sakai died in 2000.
Ôzora no samurai - Saburo Sakai's autobiography (Japanese language only)
Samurai! English language abridge version of Sakai's autobiography with Martin Caiden
Winged Samurai by Henry Sakaida, covers both Allied & Sakai's side of air combats
Imperial Japanese Naval Aces 1937-45 Profiles Sakai's aerial victories
Aces of the Rising Sun 1937-45 Compilation of Osprey IJN and JAAF books, profiles Sakai