Larry Grant Jones, a USMC Vietnam War veteran and Silver Star recipient, died March 2 at his home in Tuolumne County. He was 78.
Jones earned the Silver Star in July 1968 by saving more than 20 of his comrades with the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, during evacuation of Khe Sanh Combat Base in July 1968.
Jones served nine years altogether in the U.S. Marines, enlisting in 1961 and re-upping to serve four to five years during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. He received two honorable discharges, in 1964 and 1970.
He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he received partial disability benefits in recent years. He also suffered from neuropathy due to exposure to the herbicide-defoliant chemical Agent Orange, for which he never received disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, his wife said Monday in an interview at the Jones family home.
Jones and his family moved to Tuolumne County in 2019 from Corning, Tehama County, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
Born June 17, 1942, in Warren, Ohio, Jones graduated from high school in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Greenville, south of Lake Erie. His first stint with the Marine Corps ended in 1964, before the U.S. officially began prosecuting its war in Vietnam. He signed on again, earned the rank of sergeant, and spent the majority of his second campaign with the Marines in Vietnam.
Khe Sanh was a notorious hotspot for the Marines and other U.S. forces during 1967 and the 1968 Tet Offensive attacks by the North Vietnamese on more than 100 outposts and cities in South Vietnam.
The 1968 Battle of Khe Sahn lasted more than 70 days, and U.S. commanders viewed it as a chance for the People’s Army of Vietnam to try to repeat their famous 1954 victory over the French in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the climactic confrontation of the first Indochina War.
By late June and early July 1968, the situation at Khe Sanh had deteriorated for thousands of Marines at Khe Sanh. On July 5, the decision was made to abandon the combat base. On July 6, Jones was serving as a platoon guide for 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines when his unit, embarking in a convoy during movement from Khe Sanh Combat Base, came under heavy artillery fire, according to his Silver Star citation.
“During the ensuing attack, numerous Marines fell seriously wounded in positions dangerously exposed to intense hostile fire,” Lt. General H.W. Buse Jr. wrote to the president of the United States. “Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Sgt. Jones immediately commenced directing treatment and evacuation of casualties.”
Disregarding his own wounds, Jones assisted several wounded Marines into a nearby jeep, which he maneuvered through the field of fire to the relative safety of a helicopter landing zone, from which the wounded could be Med Evaced and flown to safety. Returning to the battlefield, he pulled two injured Marines from a burning vehicle.
“He saved 23 Marines that day,” his wife, Linda Jones, said Monday. “He should have got the Medal of Honor. He didn’t because he took a lieutenant’s jeep, and the lieutenant had to hide behind a rock.
“After he got all the guys out of there, a mortar shell went through the jeep he was driving. His passenger was killed. The shell tore his face off. That’s the last thing he remembered seeing. The blast threw him out of the jeep. He wasn’t injured, but it bent his metal helmet in half. That was the helmet he used to cook in.”
Years later, Larry Jones was interviewed by reporters at The Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette offices in Phoenix, in October 1993. Brad Hendrix, a newspaper artist for the newspapers, sketched a drawing about his actions in July 1968.
“He didn’t talk about Khe Sanh or Vietnam much until we moved to Corning,” Linda Jones said Monday. “He would tell us about the guys, and the lieutenant. He wasn’t a religious man then, but he said that day he woke up to the fact that somebody was giving him a second chance.”
Larry Jones later joined a Calvary Chapel church and became “a good Christian man,” his wife said. The couple married in January 1993 in Sedona, Arizona.
Both Larry and Linda Jones came down with COVID-19 in 2020, Linda Jones said Monday. They both recovered, but the virus weakened his lungs.
"Six months after he had it, it was all downhill,” she said. “He had to be put on oxygen. He was never sick a day in his life before that."
She said his heart eventually gave out and he had a heart attack.
Survivors of Larry Jones include his wife, his sisters Janet Hall and Debbie Griffith, both of Greenville, Pennsylvania; his brothers Gary Jones, of Greenville, Pennsylvania; Ed Jones, of San Antonio, Texas; his stepbrother, Ralph Hall, of Pennsylvania; daughters, Shawn Gray, Rose Jones, and Summer Jones; sons, Shane Worley, of Phoenix, and Phillip Jones, of New Mexico. He was preceded in death by his brothers Bobby Jones and Raymond Jones.
Larry Jones will be laid to rest in June at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella, his wife said.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.