This undated image provided by the Air Force shows General David C. Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jones, a retired Air Force general who helped set in motion a far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. military command while serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has died at 92. (Air Force via AP)
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STERLING, VA. — David C. Jones, a retired Air Force general who helped set in motion a far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. military command while serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has died at 92.
The general’s son, David Curtis Jones, said Wednesday that his father died Saturday at a military retirement community in Potomac Falls, Va. He had Parkinson’s disease.
The New York Times reports that Jones served longer than any predecessor on the Joint Chiefs, first as the Air Force chief of staff and then as chairman from 1978 to 1982. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in October 1979, with the magazine describing him as “cool, meticulous, low-key and dogged.” The article said “Jones typifies the new breed of military managers.”
Near the end of his second two-year term, Jones recommended a sweeping reorganization of the nation’s military command, moving to strengthen the chairman’s role while curbing rivalry among the services. Many of his suggestions were included in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, which streamlined the military chain of command.
Retired Gen. John Pustay, who served as an assistant to Jones, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Jones was “a very, very visionary, sharp, perceptive guy — somebody who could always see further down the path than others.”
Pustay said Jones helped move the services away from being parochial to a more joint perspective. He said the two stayed in touch, getting together weekly in later years at the military retirement community in northern Virginia where they lived.
Under Jones’ watch, the Carter administration also undertook a failed attempt to rescue 53 American hostages being held in Iran in 1980. Eight U.S. servicemen died when a helicopter crashed into a C-130 transport plane at a staging area in Iran.
“He was really devastated about that,” said Jones’ daughter, Kathy Franklin of Silver Spring, Md. She said that while Jones understood that unexpected bad weather was a factor, he also felt that the rescue attempt was impaired by the lack of a joint command to train and exercise forces for such missions.
“That propelled a lot of his passion for Goldwater-Nichols…creating more joint connections in the military,” she said.
David Charles Jones was born in Aberdeen, S.D., in 1921. After the family moved to Minot, N.D., he often rode his bicycle to a nearby airfield and dreamed of becoming a pilot. He attended the University of North Dakota and Minot State College, dropping out during World War II to enlist in the Army Air Corps. He received his commission and pilot wings in February 1943, then trained pilots at air bases in the U.S.
During the Korean War, he flew more than 300 B-29 bomber missions over North Korea and also flew aerial tankers for midair refueling. After the war, he served for two years as a top aide to Gen. Curtis LeMay, an architect of U.S. air attacks during World War II and then the commander of the Strategic Air Command.
In 1960, Jones graduated from the National War College. Four years later, he decided at age 43 that he wanted to learn to fly fighters.
“He did better than some of the young guys in his class and he got a wing,” said Franklin, who also noted that her father rose from colonel to four-star general in 5 ½ years.
Franklin described her father as a self-made man who read voraciously, particularly about management, and managed to become Joint Chiefs chairman despite having not graduated from college nor one of the service academies.
“This was rather unheard-of,” she said.
According to the Air Force website, Jones served in Vietnam as deputy commander for operations and then as vice commander of the Seventh Air Force.
He later commanded U.S. Air Forces in Europe, receiving a fourth star in 1971.
Three years later, President Richard Nixon tapped Jones to be Air Force chief of staff. He led a reorganization of the command structure.
President Jimmy Carter appointed Jones as Joint Chiefs chairman in 1978 and again in 1980.
Jones accompanied Carter to Vienna for SALT II talks with the Soviet Union in 1979, and after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, helped transform a rapid deployment force for southwest Asia that Carter established into a regional unified command.
According to The Times, some Republican senators criticized Jones for publicly backing Carter’s cancellation of the B-1 bomber, among other policies. But Jones said he felt he had a constitutional obligation to support civilian superiors publicly even if he offered different advice in private.
Still, Franklin said, “He really loved working with President Carter.”
She also has more personal memories of her father, such as when the legendary World War II general Omar Bradley was in a wheelchair and “my dad took him all around the Pentagon when he was chairman.”
Jones’ son David said he was in high school when his father was Joint Chiefs chairman, but that his father put family first.
“We did so much together,” recalled the younger Jones, of Sterling, Va. “Every moment he had he was not at work, he’d devote to family.”
He recalled his father being “extremely honest” and “larger than life” to him.
Jones completed his second term as Joint Chiefs chairman during the Reagan administration, and retired from the military in July 1982. Jones was appointed by President Reagan to the board of the American Red Cross. He also served on the boards of General Electric and Youth Service, USA Inc., and was on the Council on Foreign Relations.
Jones’ wife of 67 years, Lois, died in 2009.
In addition to Franklin and David Jones, surviving are a daughter, Susan Coffin of Scottsdale, Ariz., a sister, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery.