ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The headstones at Fort Richardson National Cemetery include the ranks of the deceased or, in the case of family members, the rank of the service member to whom they were related.
But the marker at Plot A, Row 1, Grave 2 is different. That one bears only a name and date of death. No rank.
That’s because Charles Foster Jones was a civilian, the only civilian killed by the Japanese army in North America during World War II. Though he never enlisted in the military, he was honored on Memorial Day along with the hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and officers buried beneath the neat rows of white stone, the Anchorage Daily News (http://bit.ly/1jBsc2H) reported.
Jones‘ part in the war is often mentioned in passing, but few know much about the man. One who does is Mary Breu, author of “Last Letters From Attu” (Alaska Northwest Books). Published in 2009, the book is primarily a biography of her great-aunt, Etta Schureman Jones, but also contains much information about Etta’s husband, Charles.
Jones was born in St. Paris, Ohio, on May 1, 1879, the son of a doctor. His mother died when he was four months old. It is said that Dr. Jones was a very strict father and the young Chawky, as the family called him, chafed at small town life.
“Foster wanted to get away from all that,” Breu said in a phone call from her home in Anderson, South Carolina. “He had a natural wanderlust.”
As soon as he could, he left Ohio to attend Puget Sound University. He may have enrolled there in 1897, but he didn’t finish anything. When the Klondike Gold Rush erupted the following year, he took off for the Chilkoot Pass to join the adventure.
At first, he sent articles back to his hometown newspaper, describing the Yukon, the price of food, his outfit, the high wages and the life of a sourdough. Then he more or less disappeared for 20 years, most likely working various mining claims, never striking it rich, but never giving up on the country either. Aside from a short trip to the Seattle area, there’s no record that he ever left Alaska after he arrived here.
While in Tanana he met Etta, a Jersey girl trained as a teacher and nurse. She’d followed her sister to the wilds of Alaska on something of a lark. When Jones saw her working at the post office, he told a friend he was going to marry her.
They did just that on April 1, 1923, and mushed off to a trapper’s cabin for their honeymoon. They were both 42.
Breu records the Joneses’ travels around Alaska in the years that followed. They were sent to one- and two-teacher schools in remote communities including Kipnuk and Old Harbor.
A veteran of the Trail of ‘98, Jones was a good mechanic and fixer, essential skills in places where the mail might not arrive for months. He could read currents and run a boat through shoals, construct a house with hand tools and make a generator run on fumes. He built his own radio and earned a license to operate it.
Letters quoted in the book reveal a couple who were devoted to each other. “Etta called Foster ‘a perfect companion,’” said Breu. “‘Never sick, never worried, never irritated.’ He was not a type-A personality at all, but non-confrontational, calm, a born mediator.”