The Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, Legion of Honor, is the highest French order of merit for both military personnel and civilians. Established in 1802 by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the French government presents the award to foreigners who have supported or defended France. For his participation in the liberation of France during WWII, a 100-year-old retired Army infantry officer received the Legion of Honor.
In September 1940, prior to America's entry into WWII, Joe Jones enrolled at Clemson A&M College (now Clemson University). Most Clemson students were also part of the Enlisted Reserve, and Jones reported to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on June 14, 1943. He attended Basic Training at at Camp Croft near Spartanburg, South Carolina.
On June 14, 1944, Jones commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry branch and was assigned to the 71st Infantry Division at Camp Carson, Colorado. Six months later, the division was sent to Le Havre, France. After a few weeks of combat training, the 71st departed for Nancy, France, to join the 7th Army. Leading a weapons platoon, Jones and his 36 soldiers first saw combat in Bitche, France.
The 71st fought across France and Austria, liberating the Gunskirchen Lager and Mauthausen concentration camps in April 1945. After Germany surrendered, Jones remained in Europe for another year. He helped maintain civil order, arrest Nazi stragglers, transport prisoners, and route refugees to aid. Jones also kept his troops in fighting shape in preparation for a redeployment to the Pacific theater, a fight they did not end up in.
Before returning to the States, Jones was promoted to the rank of Captain. He graduated from Clemson in 1947, part of the class of 1944. Jones served for 10 years in the Army Reserve and separated in 1953. Today, his namesake and grandson, Joe Forman Jones, is a Master Sergeant in the Air Force. "He’s the reason I have been as successful as I have been in the Air Force," Master Sgt. Jones told 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs. "He’s from the Greatest Generation and you can learn a lot from your past. He’s smart, he’s humble, and he’s an example to live by."
On November 11, 2023, during the Clemson Military Appreciation game against Georgia Tech and on Veterans Day, Capt. Jones was awarded the French Legion of Honor. The medal was presented at Clemson Memorial Stadium by Consul General of France Anne-Laure Desjonquères in front of a crowd of 81,500 people. "I was deeply honored to bestow the Legion of Honor to WWII veteran Capt. Joe Jones on #VeteransDay2023," Desjonquères tweeted. "France pays tribute to the heroes who risked their lives for our freedom." Meanwhile, Jones used the occasion to pay tribute to 52 comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice during WWII and for the nation to never forget the high price of freedom.