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The legacy of John Walker Jones

Just before COVID hit, I was walking around the grassy area on the northern end of the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center (yesteryear’s Camp White). I came across a small concrete monument in the shape of what seemed to be the fir tree that was the uniform symbol for the Army’s 91st Division that trained there during WWII.

The text at its base read, “In Memory of John Walker Jones whose life was devoted to veterans’ benefits and who was the leader in obtaining Camp White.” There was also a metal Veterans of Foreign Wars emblem attached.

In true History Snooper form, I snapped a photo and made a note to someday find out who John was and what he had to do with the old Army training post. It took a while, but someday has finally arrived.

John was an Oregon veteran of WWI, reaching the rank of sergeant with the 27th U.S. Engineers. Born in 1890 in Liverpool, England, in December 1917 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was 27. Earlier in the year he had filed his intention to become a U.S. citizen.

Just as he arrived in France, his unit moved out to begin the deadly Meuse-Argonne campaign. By then, trench warfare was over and the war of movement was on.

As the Army pressed the Germans, the 27th was engaged in bridge building and repair. With the men exposed and in full view of German observers, it was dangerous duty. Many men were killed or wounded from intense fire from regular German units and their snipers.

John left the service in 1919 and returned to the Northwest as a disabled veteran. Perhaps he had been the victim of a sniper; however, it doesn’t appear that he was ever interested in talking about it.

Within a year he was commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Portland and then, while attending the 1921 National Convention of the VFW, was elected as national vice commander-in-chief, requiring him to resign as head of the local post and begin devoting his time to organizing new VFW posts.

When the convention was just about to end, he and Eva McPherson slipped away to a nearby house and were quietly married.

John’s VFW involvement continued to grow through the next two decades. In 1922 he was appointed to the national council of administration. By 1947, he was VFW National Rehabilitation Chairman and turning his attention toward veteran health facilities. He joined with senators Wayne Morse and Guy Cordon, urging the Veterans Administration to acquire Camp White and operate it as a domiciliary hospital for veterans. In 1948, he testified before Congress as they prepared to vote on the domiciliary bill.

“It will be necessary,” John told them, “to erect a domiciliary home on the coast in the near future. … If Camp White hospital is not acquired by the VA, many veterans’ hospitals are considered frozen because they are filled with domiciliary patients.”

On Feb. 20, 1949, nearly 4,000 people were on hand, including John Walker Jones, at the official dedication of the domiciliary hospital at Camp White.

D.M. Shute, director of region No. 11 of the VA, while dedicating the facility, praised Jones and all who had done the work to make the hospital possible.

The most moving speech of the day came from Winfield Foster, who had been a resident patient in veterans’ facilities ever since the end of WWI. He said how happy he and other veterans felt about the opening of this hospital. “I wish that people in many European countries could see how the government of the United States cares for its own.”

John Walker Jones must have been proud, yet, few of his words have been recorded. It is his devotion to veterans and their health that remains his legacy.

John Walker Jones died quietly, Aug. 22, 1952, four days after his 62nd birthday.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.