A grateful nation mourns the passing of Dr. Johnnie A. Jones, Sr., a civil rights lawyer and World War II hero, who died in Louisiana on Saturday at the age of 102, according to the Associated Press.
Jones’ passing was first revealed by his goddaughter, Mada McDonald, who explained to local Baton Rouge television affiliate WAFB that the centenarian died at the Louisiana War Veterans’ Home in Jackson.
Though Jones grew up working on the land farmed by his parents, he was encouraged to pursue higher education, ultimately graduating from Southern University before being drafted into the military in 1942.
At the age of 22, Jones became the first Black Warrant Officer in the Army and served in a unit charged with bringing supplies and equipment during the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944.
The young soldier’s experience on Omaha Beach that fateful day was the stuff of war movies, as he came under German sniper fire, seized the enemy’s weapon, and returned fire, an event that haunted him for the rest of his days, as he explained to the Associated Press back in 2019.
Prior to that, Jones was being transported in a military ship that encountered a mine, sending him from the vessel’s second deck down to its first. He also suffered a shrapnel injury when a bomb attack caught him momentarily off guard.
As pivotal as those wartime challenges surely were to shaping the ultimate trajectory of Jones’ life, it was the racial climate in the America to which he returned that provided him with his life’s mission. “I couldn’t sit with the soldiers I had been on the battlefield with. I had to go to the back of the bus.”
That harsh reality led Jones to earn a law degree and assist in organizing a Baton Rouge bus boycott that served as a model for the Montgomery, Alabama boycott launched by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., years later. Jones also provided legal defense work to protesters arrested in civil rights demonstrations, establishing himself as true leader in the movement.
Despite his impressive lifetime of achievements, it was not until 2020 that Jones received the Legion of Honor from France, and he was not presented with a Purple Heart by the U.S. government until 2021, but there can be no doubt about the profound legacy of service this soldier, scholar, and advocate leaves behind.