John M. Jones, politically active publisher and ‘Merrill’s Marauders’ vet, dies aged 101

John M. Jones, publisher of the Greeneville Sun and World War II veteran who was part of “Merrill’s Marauders” serving behind Japanese lines in Burma, has died at age 101. Jones was also politically active as a Democrat in the 1950s and 1960s, subsequently forming ties with some of the state’s prominent Republicans.

Excerpts from the Greeneville Sun’s report:

Mr. Jones was a man noted for his honesty, his energy, his kindness, his manly strength and courage, and a deep, lifelong desire to pursue what he believed to be the common good.

He died peacefully and with family present on Tuesday afternoon at Laughlin Healthcare Center, where he had been undergoing treatment for three weeks for a broken bone in his left upper arm.

…During World War II, he served as an Infantry officer, including service in the China-Burma-India theatre of the war during 1944 and 1945.

He served as an Intelligence officer on the regimental staff of Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill in the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), which became widely known as “Merrill’s Marauders.”

The 3,000-man volunteer regiment was a long-range penetration force which operated successfully for some six months behind Japanese lines in Burma from February-August 1944.

Merrill’s Marauders was the first American infantry unit to fight in Asia during World War II, and, after the war, provided the modern model for the U.S. Army Rangers and the U.S. Army Special Forces.

A journal kept by then-Capt. Jones during several months of the Marauders campaign became a very important record of the campaign and has been a major source of information on the regiment’s service.

…(He had served as publisher of the Sun since the 1974 death of his mother-in-law, the late Edith O’Keefe Susong, who had been publisher previously.)

He has continued to hold that position, although, for health reasons, he has not been able to be active in the management of the paper for more than 10 years.

…In addition, beginning in 1960, he played the primary leadership role in expanding the family’s newspaper interests to include community newspapers in several other East Tennessee towns, including Newport, Athens, Loudon/Lenoir City, Sweetwater/Monroe County, Dayton, and Rogersville.

The company has in recent years become Jones Media, Inc., consisting of community daily newspapers in Greeneville, Maryville and Athens and non-daily newspapers in Newport, Rogersville, Lenoir City, Sweetwater, Dayton, and the High Country of western North Carolina, including Boone, as well as other media-related enterprises.

Over the years, Mr. Jones agreed to take on on numerous state, regional and national leadership roles in the newspaper industry.

He served as president of the Tennessee Press Association in 1962-63. He also served as a member of the boards of directors of both the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America).

In addition, in the 1980s he was elected to three 3-year terms, the maximum, as a member of the board of directors of the Associated Press, the world’s largest newsgathering body.

Beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he also became active as a citizen and volunteer in the more conservative wing of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

He was a strong backer of the reform candidacy of former FBI agent Frank G. Clement when Clement ran successfully for governor in the early 1950s.

He continued in future years to support the political careers of Clement and also Buford Ellington, a Clement ally who served as governor after Clement.

Mr. Jones was a friend and political ally of the late Herbert “Hub” Walters of Morristown, a major conservative Democratic leader in East Tennessee and the state at a time when the Republican Party was not an effective statewide force in Tennessee.

Mr. Jones attended the 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 Democratic National Conventions as a Tennessee delegate, and became acquainted with some prominent state and national party leaders including, for instance, Ned Ray McWherter at the state level, and Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter at the national level.

He was not active in Democratic political work after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

During the same years, through his local, state and national newspaper activities, he gradually became acquainted with a number of leading Republican figures as well.

These included U.S. Rep. James H. “Jimmy” Quillen, U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., Governors Winfield Dunn and Don Sundquist, and Lamar Alexander, a Baker aide who himself went on to become a two-term Tennessee governor, a U.S. Secretary of Education, and a multi-term U.S. Senator.

In many instances, Mr. Jones’ wide network of friendships with political leaders of both parties helped him achieve goals — such as the state decision to locate Greene Valley Developmental Center here — that benefited Greeneville and Greene County economically.
His involvement in political activity was a key asset in the effort that he considered his most important public achievement: helping establish, then improve, what became the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

…The funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James Church, with interment to follow at Oak Grove Cemetery. The Rev. Chris Starr, interim rector of St. James, will officiate at the services.