Archive for Wednesday, November 10, 2004

After half-century, veteran reunites with shipmates

Quest for commemorative cap leads Tonganoxie veteran to ship’s reunion

November 10, 2004

It's been a long time since Marvin Jones has been at sea.

Almost 50 years, said the retiree who lives northwest of Tonganoxie.

Until this past summer, he never gave it much thought. His service time in the Navy had long been finished. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had any contact with the men who served on the same ship he was on -- the USS Frank E. Evans -- during the Korean War.

Jones knew the ship had sunk in a tragic 1969 accident in the South China Sea. An Australian aircraft carrier inadvertently broadsided the Evans, shearing it in half. Within three minutes the bow half sunk, taking the lives of 75 men with it.

But that was long after Jones' time aboard the USS Frank E. Evans -- in another war, another place.

Reuniting

This summer at the Leavenworth County Fair, Jones's wife, Myrt, stopped by the American Legion booth. She noted the different service-related ball caps and asked if there were one for the USS Frank E. Evans. Within a couple of days, Legion commander Jim Rogers' wife, Mary, called Myrt to say not only that a cap was available, but also that an annual reunion was held for those who served on the Evans.

Within weeks, the Joneses were on their way to their first reunion -- in Lubbock, Texas.

Out to sea

Jones, who grew up near Linwood, served on the Evans from January 1952 through December 1955.

As a landlocked Kansas boy, the Navy wasn't something that had long been on his mind.

Instead, the induction to sea life came about after another plan failed.

"I'd been going to K-State and my interest wasn't in academics at that time," Jones said. "I wasn't doing very good in school."

He and a friend who was a student in a similar predicament at Kansas University decided to try something else.

"So we both enlisted in the Navy at the same time," Jones said.

When he was 20, Jones went through basic training in San Diego and completed machinist mates schooling in Great Lakes, Ill.

Jones, who was a machinists' mate second class petty officer when he left the Navy, recalled the tedium as well as fun times.

"You get tired of it when you're under way," Jones said. "You're on (working) for four hours then you're off for four hours, then you're back on for four hours."

The rigorous schedule was repeated for days, said Jones, who noted his longest stretch without leaving the ship was five weeks.

The men found their own entertainment, even on ship.

"We had friends in the galley who had keys to one of the refrigerators, he'd go in and get potatoes and milk and we'd make potato soup, baking the potatoes on the hot steam lines," Jones said.

They could bake a potato in 10 minutes, Jones said, noting the engine room was always hot.

Rough waters

And, even after he became accustomed to life at sea, Jones said extremely rough water could bring on a wave of nausea.

For instance, he recalled a typhoon that settled in over the South China Sea.

"They sent the USS Evans out there to rescue a merchant ship and pick up any survivors out of the water in case anyone had been washed overboard.

"They sent us out there in the middle of that thing," Jones said. "In the eye is the calm part -- the rough water is before you get into the eye."

They made it into the eye only to discover that another ship had already rescued the merchant ship.

It was the roughest water Jones ever experienced.

When the ship went over the huge swells, the propellers came out of the water. And since Jones worked in the engine room that made his job much more difficult. He explained that when the propellers come out of the water, the rpms increase.

"You've got to close the throttle to the main engines to slow it down," Jones said.

The typhoon wasn't as frightening as it was unsettling.

"I don't care how long you've been at sea or how seasoned you are," Jones said. "When you get in one of those storms you start getting a little queasy."

Family life

While he was in the Navy, on Dec. 27, 2003, Jones married Myrt Torneden, also from Linwood. The next year, their first child, Angie, was born. By the time Jones was able to see his daughter, she was 3 months old.

Myrt lived with her parents while Marvin was in the Navy.

"It was really hard," Myrt said. "I wrote to him every day. ... We still have all those letters."

When Jones left the service it was with a desire to complete his education. He went back to Kansas State University and earned a bachelor's degree in animal science.

The couple had two more children, a son, Jeffrey, who lives west of Springdale, and a daughter, Gayla Straffus, who lives in Memphis. Their oldest daughter, Angie Tillisch, lives near McLouth.

Friends old and new

"It was great," Jones said of the reunion in Lubbock. "Everybody changes you know, and I hadn't seen some of those guys since I got out of the service. So we had a lot of reacquainting to do."

Marvin and Myrt, who are retired, had such a good time at this year's USS Frank E. Evans reunion that they plan to go back. Next year's reunion will be in Milwaukee.

"We're going to go," Jones said. "We may go every year as long as we're able, now that we've started going."

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