Pearl Harbor Heroes: Herbert C. Jones

February 15, 2019

As we’ve learned over time, heroes come in all ages, genders, and ethnicities. The attack on Pearl Harbor illustrates this point with the innumerable people who stepped up to help their fellow Americans on December 7, 1941. Among them was 23-year-old Herbert C. Jones, a Los Angeles native who gave his life protecting his fellow servicemen.

Born January 21, 1918 on the West Coast of the United States, Jones spent much of his younger years enjoying the California sun. Though he was known for his fun side, Jones also understood the importance of service to his nation. His father was a member of the United States military and the younger Jones was determined to follow in his footsteps.

When he was old enough, Herbert C. Jones began his military service when he was 17 years old, on May 14, 1935, enlisting in the United States Naval Reserves. Within five years, the sailor was commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy and reported for duty aboard USS California (BB-44). The Tennessee-class battleship was stationed at Pearl Harbor, keeping Jones in the warm, sun-drenched setting he grew up with in California.


A Hero Is Made

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Jones wouldn't be given the opportunity to enjoy what should have been a quiet day on duty. Shortly before 0800 that morning, the skies over Oahu filled with the sound of roaring engines of fighters and bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Their targets were the battleships of the US Pacific Fleet, including USS California on which Jones served.

As he was about to relieve the officer-of-the-deck, Jones witnessed planes swooping in on the harbor, launching their devastating attack. The attackers struck hard, dropping torpedoes and bombs in the waters of Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t long before California was hit. Smoke poured throughout the battleship, but Jones kept to his duty and made his way through the damaged vessel. The oily flumes were too much for many of the men to handle, and after rescuing an injured sailor, Jones was momentarily overcome by the fumes.

USS California sinking

Thick smoke envelopes USS California (BB-44)

Chaos continued to unfold around him, but after briefly passing out, Jones refused to let it deter him. He continued searching the ship until he came on an anti-aircraft battery without a leader. Taking command of the battery, he ordered the men to fire back on the incoming second wave of Japanese warplanes. The battery soon ran out of ammunition, and the rest was still locked in the magazines below decks.

Jones wanted to continue the counter-assault on incoming planes and organized a volunteer party to help bring shells up by hand. In the midst of helping move shells up to the battery, another bomb struck the ship. Jones was mortally wounded in the blast. It was the last time Herbert C. Jones was seen alive.

Honors for Herbert C. Jones

USS Herbert C. Jones (DE-137)

USS Herbert C. Jones (DE-137)

The 23-year-old ensign of the United States Navy became recognized as a hero, and was honored with the commissioning of USS Herbert C. Jones (DE-137) on July 21, 1943. For his actions at Pearl Harbor, Jones was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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