"Before every flight, I would check the plane and start the engines one at a time," he said. "Kennedy would come out to the field and say, 'Jonesie, are we ready to go?' But he already knew I had made sure we were."

From their base in Devonshire, England, they flew 32 combat missions and were frequently attacked by enemy planes. Their squadron took heavy casualties and lost more than half its planes.

"Missions flown by such men as Joe Kennedy Jr. and Alvin Jones played a key role in weakening German coastal batteries, airstrips and submarine bases along the coast of the Bay of Biscay and elsewhere," Edward Renehan, author and Kennedy historian, said in an email. "In so doing, they saved an incalculable but large number of American and British lives, both on sea and land."

The planes were rugged and could take punishment, but they rattled constantly, offered little protection from the elements and small comfort to those who flew in them, Evans said.

After their 32nd mission, Jones returned to the U.S. Kennedy, 27, remained in England and volunteered for a dangerous mission in August 1944. He and a co-pilot flew a plane loaded with more than 10 tons of explosives toward a German bomb-launching site in Normandy. Their plane exploded before they could bail out, and no trace of them was ever found.

Jones was in Norfolk, waiting to be deployed to duty in the Pacific, when he learned of his captain's death.

"I was devastated when I heard," he said. "He had talked about being president, and he would have been a good one. I figured if that happened, I would do something in Washington for him."

Jones returned to Baltimore in 1945. He married Marie Schulze, whom he had met at a city ice rink before the war.

"I saw her skating and told a friend I was gonna get that gal," he said. "I followed her home."

They had two children and were together 58 years until her death 10 years ago.

He did learn a trade in the Navy. That machinist experience led to a career as a master plumber. At 89, he is still working part time, giving plumbing advice to customers at Home Depot in White Marsh.

"At first, they wanted me to be a greeter, but that was not where I belong," he said. "Now, they send the plumbing problems to me. I get them straightened out one way or another."

His assistant manager, Dan Cole, said he values experience like that in an employee. "He has so much knowledge in a field where you have to know what you are doing," Cole said.

At the entrance to the store, the staff has put up a wall of honor for its employees who are veterans, including Jones, the oldest of those pictured.

"We put it up for Veterans Day last year and just kept it up," Cole said. "It is important to recognize these veterans. They have kept this country free."

Jones said, "Customers see that wall and look me up. We chat a little about my time in the service. Then, the best part, many of them thank me for taking care of the country."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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