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WWII vet finally graduates

High school students conspire to award him an honorary degree

Published: Wednesday, May 22 2013 10:58 p.m. MDT

George Jones, right, 89, talks with Bailey Jo Bartlome in Kuna, Idaho, on Friday.   (Associated Press) George Jones, right, 89, talks with Bailey Jo Bartlome in Kuna, Idaho, on Friday. (Associated Press)

BOISE — World history conspired to keep George Jones from getting his high school diploma.

Bailey Jo Bartlome and other Kuna High seniors conspired to make sure he got it.

Jones, now 88, went from a farm at Black Cat and Columbia roads to the Pacific theater and into banking.

Bartlome, 18, met Jones at a school veterans celebration last fall. She was so moved by his life and story that she worked with her fellow 250 seniors to include Jones at graduation ceremonies, complete with cap and gown.

"What he went through is amazing," said Bartlome, who will attend College of Southern Idaho on a full rodeo scholarship next fall. "This is going to be awesome."

Jones was a sophomore at Kuna High School in 1941. He was quarterback of the Kaveman football team, wearing No. 12. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Jones left school to join the military. But at 17, he was too young and the military wouldn't take him.

So he went to work for Morrison Knudsen, the global construction company headquartered in Boise. He built underground fuel storage tanks in Hawaii.

George Jones, 89, will be the oldest graduate to walk the line when the Class of 2013 graduates at Kuna High School Thursday May 23, 2013.   Jones i  left school shortly after World War II started and never got back to get that diploma. When Kuna's class of 2013 discovered Jones, they did something about it. Now, he's getting that diploma.  (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Katherine Jones)  LOCAL TV OUT (KTVB 7)  (ONLN OUT; IONLN OUT - MBI) (Associated Press) George Jones, 89, will be the oldest graduate to walk the line when the Class of 2013 graduates at Kuna High School Thursday May 23, 2013. Jones i left school shortly after World War II started and never got back to get that diploma. When Kuna's class of 2013 discovered Jones, they did something about it. Now, he's getting that diploma. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Katherine Jones) LOCAL TV OUT (KTVB 7) (ONLN OUT; IONLN OUT - MBI) (Associated Press)

He came back to Kuna High for a while. When he turned 18, he joined the Army, volunteering as a paratrooper.

After an injury in training knocked him out of jumping from planes, he was sent to the infantry – and back to Hawaii.

There he was assigned to a ship outfitted with three 4.2-inch mortars and sent into combat to lob shells from the water over the heads of advancing infantry troops.

He was at Leyte in the fight that led to Allied forces reclaiming the Philippines. He went on to Luzon, also in the Philippines, in January 1945.

He was on his way to join the invasion force for Japan when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war with Japan.

Back home in Boise at age 22, Jones enrolled in Franklin High School. He met a girl, got married, had a job and wanted a family. He left Franklin after six months.

Jones was a messenger for Idaho First National Bank.

"I got on a bike and rode around town taking bum checks back to merchants," he said.

Except for a couple of detours, Jones spent much of his life in banking, moving into branch management before working as a courier in Idaho.

Bailey Jo Bartloome  holds a #12 jersey Friday May 17, 2013, in Kuna, Idaho.  She found the jersey for George Jones, 89, who will be the oldest graduate to walk the line when the Class of 2013 graduates at Kuna High School Thursday.   Jones left school shortly after World War II started and never got back to get that diploma.  When Kuna's class of 2013 discovered wny Jones did not get a diploma they worked to have him awarded an honorary diploma and their graduation.  Jones wore Number 12 when he played foiotball at Kuna.    (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Kathertine Jones )  LOCAL TV OUT (KTVB 7)   (Associated Press) Bailey Jo Bartloome holds a #12 jersey Friday May 17, 2013, in Kuna, Idaho. She found the jersey for George Jones, 89, who will be the oldest graduate to walk the line when the Class of 2013 graduates at Kuna High School Thursday. Jones left school shortly after World War II started and never got back to get that diploma. When Kuna's class of 2013 discovered wny Jones did not get a diploma they worked to have him awarded an honorary diploma and their graduation. Jones wore Number 12 when he played foiotball at Kuna. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Kathertine Jones ) LOCAL TV OUT (KTVB 7) (Associated Press)

In 2012, Jones went on an Honor Flight, in which pilots take veterans to see the World War II monument in Washington, D.C. On that visit, he received a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.

He decided to give it to his old high school, in memory of two fellow football players who had died in World War II.

And that brought Jones to a Kuna High School assembly last fall, where Bartlome sat with the rest of her class.

Jones talked to the students about his war experience. Even though seven decades separated the speaker and his audience, he reminded them: "Once a Kaveman, always a Kaveman."

"We were all just sitting there crying," Bartlome said. "We were so amazed."

Immediately after the assembly, she talked with the government teacher about a way to honor Jones. She brought the senior class together to ask them what they thought of inviting Jones to graduate with them. They loved it.

Jones will get an honorary Kuna High diploma.

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