GREENSBORO — During a recent speech at a sold-out War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro, renowned news broadcast journalist and writer Tom Brokaw paid tribute to the generation who served and sacrificed for their country during the World War II era. It is a group he has long helped to honor, simply referring to them as “The Greatest Generation.”
That powerful evening ended with Brokaw asking for the house lights to be brought up in order to recognize an audience member who was one of those to have sacrificed her husband and the father of their unborn child in the war effort. Local resident Virginia Jones was that person recognized as Brokaw went on to retell her powerful story, taken from one of his books.
Brokaw’s speech took place on Nov. 29 as part of the Guilford College Bryan Series, bringing in well-known speakers in the areas of arts, humanities and public affairs. After visiting the campus, speakers end their day with a speech open to the public.
One of many characterized in Brokaw’s books, Virginia Jones’ story is one reflecting the strength and sacrifices of that generation.
She grew up in the Pine Hill community near where she still lives today. The daughter of Arthur and Bettie Ring, she spent her early childhood working on the family farm. Her father went on to run a country store in the area where young Virginia attended Copeland School.
At that time Copeland School, like others, extended through high school. She attended school with a young man from the community, Glenn Franklin Jones, and, she recalled, “I guess you could say we were childhood sweethearts.”
She still recalls their first date, a community ice cream supper, after which Jones asked if he could take her home. Both went on to graduate as part of the Copeland School class of 1940.
Glenn Franklin Jones entered the Army during the heat of World War II while Virginia Ring, after taking post-graduate business courses, started work as a bookkeeper in a Winston-Salem furniture store. They were married in April of 1944 while Jones was on a furlough.
In February of 1945, some 10 months after they were married, Jones was serving in an Army Infantry unit in Germany that took part in the pivotal “Battle of the Bulge.” Virginia Jones was at home, expecting the couple’s first child, a boy due in June.
Jones, at the age of 23, was fatally wounded in battle and during his dying hours was treated by good friend Gregory Kirchner, a medic who had shared military training with him in Wisconsin. The two shared an intimate conversation that Kirchner would later try, unsuccessfully at first, to relay to Virginia Jones.
Virginia Jones was notified of her husband’s passing and in June of 1945 gave birth to their son, Glenn Franklin Jones Jr.
She went on to teach for 12 years at Copeland School before beginning a 31-year career at Surry Telephone. Glenn Franklin Jones was first buried in Luxembourg with his body later moved here, to the Pine Hill Friends Meeting cemetery near her home.
In 1999, some 54 years after her husband had died, Virginia Jones was contacted by the Veterans’ Administration requesting permission to share her contact information with Brokaw. Brokaw had learned of Jones from Gregory Kirchner, who was still wishing to contact his friend’s widow.
Brokaw was attempting to contact her as part of research for his second book, “The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections,” and did include the couple’s story in the book.
Jones went on to talk to Brokaw by telephone on three occasions. She also was able to talk to Kirchner, who relayed her husband’s dying declaration of love and concern for her and their expected son whom he would never see.
Jones, her son and her grandson, Adam Jones, later received copies of Brokaw’s book.
She would go on to establish her own friendship with Kirchner and his family. She was able to visit the family at their home in Pittsburgh, Pa., and later hosted Kirchner for a quick Pilot Mountain visit for lunch in her home. She fondly recalls the now-departed Kirchner as “a remarkable man.”
She was notified of Brokaw’s visit to Greensboro by her nephew, Brent McKinney, who serves on the Guilford College board. She received tickets to the event and, at a pre-event reception, took part in a fast-moving “meet and greet” line that allowed her to briefly speak to Brokaw and stand for a photo.
“He saw my name tag,” she recalled, “and I think he recognized my name. I said ‘yes, I’m the Virginia Jones in the book.’ He reached down and hugged me and said, ‘Virginia, this almost makes me cry.’”
Brokaw went on to give the auditorium speech, using humor and emotion to describe the sacrifices and service of veterans from that “greatest generation” to today. As his speech drew to a close, he asked to share one last story.
To Jones’ surprise, that story, taken from his book, was of her husband’s final hours with Kirchner and the medic’s later attempts to reach her. Brokaw then called for the lights to be raised in order for Jones to be recognized.
“That put me on the spot,” she said. “And it still brings a freshness to things. I try not to feel sorry, those were tough years for most everybody, but I do regret that he died at such an early age. I am glad that he was recognized.”
The Thursday evening event began a special weekend for Jones. Later that weekend, she was joined by family members for a party celebrating her 90th birthday.