Bob Jones: From combat medic to award winning sculptor

More than 50 years ago, Bob Jones was not the successful dentist or talented artist he is today. He was a 19-year-old plucked from college by the draft after dropping a calculus class. Instead of solving mathematical equations, he was serving as a combat medic with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam.

“We were up by the demilitarized zone near Hue,” Jones said. “It was a very bad place. They dug holes in the ground and put our tents over them because we were getting mortars and rockets a couple of times a night. It was a place where you slept with your boots on and your helmet and rifle next to you.”

Young Veteran in Vietnam

Combat medic in the 101st Airborne

Late one evening Jones made the decision to leave his hole without his boots, helmet, or rifle and was caught out in the open during an unexpected attack.

Jones described the chaos, fear and devotion to duty he experienced that night. The enemy throwing satchel charges into tents, the crackle of a radio with a request from a beleaguered outpost for more ammunition.

“Not going anywhere without a helmet.”

Without thinking, Jones grabbed an ammo can and jumped into the passenger seat of a jeep. Just as quickly, someone pulled him from the vehicle as it lurched in the direction of the outpost. The unknown person yelled at Jones that he wasn’t going anywhere without boots or a helmet.

When Jones rotated home from Vietnam, he went from a combat zone to a college campus in just three short days. As difficult as that transition must have been, his newfound determination to succeed helped create opportunities he didn’t have before.

“We were not well received when we came home,” he said about those who served during the Vietnam War. “However, because of my military experiences, I matured and became very confident. I don’t feel that those experiences made me a different person but rather kind of showed me who I was. I wasn’t intimidated by anything. I would take the initiative to make things happen and I was willing to fight for the life I wanted.”

Graduated with an A average

Using the G.I. Bill, Jones excelled in college and graduated with an A average. Because he also received dental training during his military service, he applied to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry and eventually earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine. He then purchased a practice in Hannibal and spent the next 20 years there before moving to Columbia.

During his postwar years, he also renewed his passion for art.

“I’ve been interested in art for as long as I can remember. I paint, sculpt and work with stained glass. Often, I focus on my work so much that I lose track of time, so it’s a good place for me to be. It also keeps me from having intrusive thoughts. “Once I enrolled in VA health care, I learned about Truman VA’s local creative arts competition and decided to submit a sculpture of my grandfather that I was working on.”

Veteran with artwork on desk

Will attend national competition

Took first place in local competition

Jones not only took first place at Truman VA but also was selected to attend this year’s 42nd annual National Veterans Creative Arts Competition and Festival, April 10 through 17 at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in St. Louis.

Jones’ metalwork sculpture, “Courage Within a Gentle Heart,” will be displayed at the museum for the month of April.

“We are so proud of Mr. Jones and that he will represent our Veterans,” said Natalie Akins, creative arts therapist at Truman VA. “We’re also excited that this year’s national festival will be held in St. Louis. The museum is close enough for mid-Missourians to have an opportunity to attend, and the artwork will be displayed throughout April at no charge to the public.”

The national festival showcases the artistic achievements of Veterans from across the country. Participants have the opportunity to submit their art in more than 50 categories that include painting, sculpting, writing, performing arts and more. Workshops utilizing the talents of local community artists also will be offered to participants and staff during the national festival week.

“VA care is first class.”

Today, Jones reflects back on his military service with a sense of pride and appreciates the benefits he receives through VA.

“Checking to see if you are eligible to enroll in VA health care is something every Veteran should do,” Jones said. “The care is first class, and it is delivered in a welcoming environment. I’m so glad I finally decided to look into it and enroll. Plus, you get to be around other Veterans.”

The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act designates March 29 of each year as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The staff and volunteers at Harry S. Truman Memorial VA in Columbia, Missouri, would like to take this opportunity to thank the men and women who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War for their dedication and service. Welcome home!

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