Walton Jones never imagined that he would join the armed forces.
A young Berkeley County native, Jones was registering for classes on the campus at South
Carolina State University when Capt. Abraham Turner suggested he enroll in the school’s ROTC program. Jones was reluctant.
“The military’s not for me,” Jones responded. “I had no intentions of going into the military.”
But the captain challenged him to try it out for a year. Jones did.
One year snowballed into 24.
“I landed into a legacy,” Jones said.
Jones established a career in the United States Army that took him across the world to Korea, Niger, and Haiti among other countries. The retired lieutenant colonel said was deployed so many times that he actually stopped counting.
When asked whether he saw combat, Jones says it’s a tricky question. No, he did not fight in any wars. But he was put in some hostile environments on foreign soil where opposite sides were flirting with gunfire.
He recalls being deployed to Uganda as part of the United States’ African Crisis Response Initiative in the mid ‘90s – two years after the Rwandan Genocide.
“It doesn’t have to be a combat situation to be a danger situation,” Jones said. “Those crises that happen in Rwanda, those military leaders were kidnapping young children and turning them into soldiers. Although we were not in combat, it was an operation other than war, we knew of the danger and hostility.”
As he was in and out of the States, Jones learned that many of his relatives and community role models had served in the military. It wasn’t until after he enrolled in the armed forces when he learned his father was a Korean War veteran.
“I started to realize this unsung community surrounding me.”
Jones is quick to point out the benefits rendered by the military.
The armed forces paid for him to get a master’s degree. He notes many local business owners and professionals jumpstarted their careers from GI Bill funds.
“I realized in the 1940’s, ‘50s black men went into the military to achieve the opportunity to get a GI bill to go to school, to get a VA loan, to make money to send back home to mama,” Jones said. “We have the same scenario now.”
His advice is the same for young people who are weighing their professional options.
“Get your high school degree, join the military, serve the military, get out of Moncks Corner, see the bigger world.
And then, take advantage of the assets.”
Jones, who now resides outside of Macedonia in Berkeley County, said the military also gave him the opportunity to share African-American history across the world. He said many Ugandan soldiers had never heard of the slave trade in America. When Jones arrived to Uganda to train African soldiers, they thought he was Ugandan.
“When I came over to Uganda, they thought I was a Ugandan with an American uniform on to be an interpreter,” Jones said. “Many of the village soldiers being trained had never heard of the slave trade. They wanted to know how did I get to America…the average African had not met a black American.”
In his retired years, Jones now works to increase awareness about the opportunities that military gives.
He hopes to bridge the gap between Africans and black Americans.
“We want to a work out a community to village relationship so Africans in these villages can meet more black Americans and encourage black Americans to travel to Africa.”
He is working on a project at the Cherry Hill Community Center to archive the names of black Moncks Corner men and women who served in the military.
He hopes to see more minority representation in the U.S. Armed Forces. Those who have served should email Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org