Jones, Henry

305th Machine Gun Battalion

Jones, Henry
Henry James Jones. Photo from the Veterans of Foreign Wars post at Medford.

Henry James Jones
305th Machine Gun Battalion
Private 1st Class

Henry James Jones was one of eight children born to John and Maria Jones of Yaphank. Their home was on the hill overlooking Mill Road, just west of the Veteran's Place. The Jones' seventy-five acre farm ran from Mill Road to Gerard Road on the north side and past Carman's River on the west. Growing up, Henry attended the one room schoolhouse in Yaphank.

In October of 1917, Henry Jones was drafted into the 77th Division of the United States Army. He did not have to travel far: the newly erected Camp Upton was only minutes away. After months of training, Jones was assigned to the 305th Machine Gun Battalion, which was part of the 77th Division. The unit proudly marched down 5th Avenue in New York City on Washington's Birthday. His was the first unit to leave Camp Upton for France.

On March 29, 1918, the troops embarked on the ship, Megantic, a White Star Liner. Twelve days later, the battalion arrived at Liverpool in England. The men then boarded trains to Dover, overlooking the English Channel.

The men were hurriedly loaded onto a boat; after crossing the Channel, they arrived at Calais, France. From there, they were sent to La Panne for additional training.

The 305th Machine Gun Battalion was assigned to the 39th Division of the British Army. The 39th had the job of preparing the battalion for combat, which included training the Americans in such things as gas mask procedures and using the Vickers Machine Gun.

Members of the British 39th Division teaching the Americans to work with machine guns.

After completing their training, the battalion moved to the Lorraine Sector. This was a relatively quiet sector, and the men were able to prepare for the combat they would soon see. The machine gunners were issued Colt 45 automatic pistols and spent time in the trenches. They began to work with a French machine gun called a Hotchkiss. It took some time, but the men became accustomed to and grew to like this gun that they would take into combat. The men also quickly learned the sound of the Klaxon Horn, which was used to warn them of a gas attack.

On August 5, the men of the 305th packed into railroad cars. As the train rolled away, the cars roared with the words of an old song, "Where do we go from here, boys, where do we go from here?" The young men soon learned that "here" was the "hell hole of Vesle," as it became known to many.

The next day, Jones and his battalion were loaded onto trucks and transported to the front. They reunited with other elements of the 77th Division en route to a place called Chateau Thierry. The 77th was relieving the badly depleted United States 4th Division, which had pushed the Germans across the Vesle River.

On August 11, nearly all the men attended a church service where, somewhat prophetically, the men sang, "Nearer My God to Thee." After this, the men made their way to the river in valley of the Vesle. The Germans occupied strong positions on the hills across the river. As daylight faded, the men pressed on, passing the lifeless forms of men and horses. When they approached the river, they set up their machine guns. No system of trenches existed, so each man dug a hole to conceal himself from the enemy.

Despite being well concealed, Jones' battalion suffered casualties from German machine guns the next day. For four days, the troops endured constant machine gun strafing, artillery fire and dreaded gas attacks. Some men described the mustard gas as smelling like crushed onions. On August 16, the 305th Machine Gun Battalion got some relief from the repeated gas attacks: other members of the 77th Division were sent in so Jones' battalion could recuperate.

A week later, the 305th was sent back to the line to prepare for the push to drive the Germans out of the valley. The push began when the 77th artillery began to blast the hills occupied by the Germans. Jones, as part of Company B, went "over the top," as the barrage ended. The Company crossed the river and made its way up the hill. They settled into the trenches formerly occupied by the Germans, and kept the enemy away.

The men were pulled out of the line on September 14 to prepare for an advance that many hoped would end the war, the Battle of the Argonne Forest. This would be the greatest battle of the war. The Argonne Forest was thirty-nine miles of heavily wooded deep ravines, abrupt ridges, and thick underbrush. This was a place that Julius Caesar went around and Napoleon avoided; now, however, the Americans were planning to go straight through this ominous forest.

On September 25, Jones' battalion set out to relieve weary French troops. After waiting in trenches, the Americans began their advance at six o'clock, zero hour. Jones and Company B, weighed down with machine guns, tripods, ammunition and backpacks, found it difficult to keep up with the infantry. Nevertheless, they crossed "no man's land" and ventured into the infamous Argonne forest.

The Americans saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war in the Argonne. Forced into a ravine by devastating enemy fire on September 26, Company B made their way out only to face deadly machine gun fire, hand grenades, trench mortars and snipers. Many members of the company lost their lives that day. Fred Harris, a friend of Jones, was the only survivor of the squad that he was leading. Despite such losses, the battalion continued to press deeper into the Argonne. Finally, after weeks of fighting, they pushed the Germans out of the forest.

The 305th Machine Gun Battalion finally got relief on October 18, when the 78th Division arrived. As the men of the 305th gathered at a camp near Florent, they were shocked to see how many of their friends and fellow soldiers did not make it out of the Argonne Forest. For ten days, the men spent their time at camp cleaning the machine guns and drilling. They received new uniforms and got some much-needed rest. The men were in high spirits, feeling like the war was nearly over. In the evenings, each company took turns entertaining the rest of the battalion by putting on shows or singing songs. The men eagerly anticipated receiving three-day passes before returning to the front, but then news came that all leaves and furloughs were cancelled. The men took this news hard; they were being sent back into the line for what would be the last push of the war.

Marching through the night, the men made their way back through the Argonne Forest to their last positions. The road was littered with dead German soldiers, machine guns and other equipment, all evidence of the terrible struggle that had taken place.

On the night of October 31, Company B took its position near the top of the hills outside St. Juvin. Henry Jones was assigned to the machine gun with a friend, Fred Harris, and two other men, Privates Fitzgerald and Siff. At five o'clock the next morning, November 1, their Lieutenant gave the order to go over the top.

The gun crew went over in the face of terrible shellfire. Crawling along the ground, they made their way forward. In an instant, Jones was killed when a shell hit near the squad. Clement J. Burger also of Company B, made this notation in his diary.

November 1, 1918
In the morning of we met the enemy (at Champsuelle) and proceeded to dig in. Our gunner Henry Jones was killed when a shell fell in our midst at 6:00 am.

Machine gun firing at two Germans who are attempting to set up a machine gun on the road to Champigneulle.
305th Machine Gun Battalion, 77th Division. St. Juvin, Ardennes, France. Nov. 1, 1918

 This final push did, however, end the war: the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

Henry James Jones was buried in an isolated grave outside of St. Juvin. His body was later moved to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery at Meuse, France, in 1922.

Aerial view of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial.

In June of 1930, Henry's mother, Maria Jones, visited her son's gravesite as part of the Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimage, a U.S. government program that paid the travel expenses for mothers and widows whose sons and husbands were killed overseas during the war. The Jones family had the option of returning his body to America, but they chose to leave him alongside his comrades in France.

Gravesite of Private 1st Class, Henry James Jones.

The Jones family placed a monument to Henry in the Yaphank Cemetery. The monument was made from a stone at Yaphank Lake. As a young boy, Henry Jones was fond of jumping off this stone into the lake. His family thought it to be a tribute to his memory.   Shortly after the war ended, the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Medford named their post in honor of Henry James Jones.

The Jones family continued to live in Yaphank. Henry's father John served Brookhaven Town for over forty years as a polling place inspector. He also served the Yaphank school district as a trustee or clerk for more than forty years. Many "old-timers" still remember his son Tobe (David), who operated an apple orchard on Mill Road.

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