KNOXVILLE - The glow of a bright white marble headstone for James Trenton Jones stands out at Lynnhurst Cemetery in Knoxville. The upright marker is what you typically find in veterans cemeteries rather than family plots.
The shape and color of the marker for Jones is hardly what makes his headstone unique. For the last 87 years, the grave of this highly decorated veteran of the First World War was unmarked. The stone that now stands above his burial site took a long detour for unknown reasons.
We don't know why the stone was lost. We know how it was found.
"Many years ago, a friend was doing demolition work, tearing down houses to put in the I-640 bypass in East Knoxville," said Gary Lowe, a retired Morristown police officer and military veteran. "The marble was a footstep. The tombstone was being used as a rock to step on the front porch of the house. He pried it up and saw what it was. He did not feel right about just throwing a tombstone away, so he kept it."
Lowe said the story was told to his brother, Grady Lowe, who took possession of the headstone and began to search for where it belonged.
They could not find the grave for James T. Jones, but knew he was a hero.
"The tombstone had DSC on it, Distinguished Service Cross, which is the second-highest military honor you can get in the Army. It's just one step under the Medal of Honor," said Lowe.
They could not find a grave at the time, so they preserved and cared for the marker at Grady Lowe's home.
"It was in my brother's rock garden and we never really gave up on finding the grave. A few weeks ago, I saw a story about a similar case and was inspired to try again," said Lowe.
Funeral director Jeff Berry helped locate the grave at Lynnhurst Cemetery. That's when he told the Lowes the grave did not have another headstone and had been unmarked since the burial in 1930.
"James Trenton Jones was an American hero. He laid in an unmarked grave for 87 years. That's a travesty," said Lowe.
Berry said he was amazed the marker remained in perfect condition.
"And the fact that it is the original marker. They don't make those markers like that anymore. That's the design that was made in the 1930s," said Berry.
Berry inherited a book that includes photographs of members of Company C,117th Infantry during World War I. The company is comprised primarily of soldiers from East Tennessee and the Carolinas. The book includes a photograph of James T. Jones.
"That book was very handy and a bit of good fortune. It has his photograph and a write-up about where he served," said Berry.
Jones earned the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism in action near Ypres, Belgium, July 24, 1918. Corporal Jones was in charge of a detached automatic rifle post, heavily bombarded by the enemy. Two of his men were killed by shell fire, two others and himself seriously wounded. Though it was his first experience under fire, Corporal Jones exhibited unhesitating devotion to duty by remaining at his post. Sending for assistance, he reorganized his position and gave aid and comfort to the wounded."
His death certificate shows Jones died of a heart attack in 1930 at the age of 32. James Trenton Jones was born Aug. 28, 1898, to John Dowell Jones and Estelle Virginia LaPrade Jones. He was one of two sons born to J.D. and Estelle. His brother's name was Clyde Wallace Jones.
Jones was a father with very young children when he died. Surviving family moved out of state. Berry was able to track down a grandson, Richard Jones, west of Atlanta.
Richard Jones traveled from Georgia to Knoxville for Thursday's ceremony honoring his grandfather's life.
"I never knew anything about my grandfather. My father was so young when his father passed, he knew very little about him. My grandmother was very old when I knew her. Her memory was not very good and she was going downhill, so I never heard about my grandfather from her," said Jones.
Jones said the call about his grandfather's headstone and military service came as a shock.
"I am a military veteran myself," said Jones, who served on the USS Forestall during the Vietnam War. "They started telling me he received the Distinguished Service Cross. I was flabbergasted. Between that and the way they found his headstone, I tell people and they go, 'You've got to be kidding.' They don't believe it."
At the grave of James Jones, his grandson looked at his photograph for the first time. Richard Jones said the photograph seemed familiar and may have been in his grandmother's home. However, he was never shown the image and specifically told it was his grandfather.
"He looks just like my father. Or my father looks just like him. That's amazing," said Jones.
The 87-year journey ended Thursday with a grandson meeting his grandfather. A hero's legacy, etched in stone so long ago, now stands at its rightful resting place.
"It really makes me proud to be an American," said Jones. "Thank goodness the marker was found by a veteran who cared for it instead of just throwing it away."
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