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Pearl Harbor Day: Remembering James Jones

December 7, 2012

Today is the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Every Dec. 7 I’m reminded of James Jones, who wrote four novels about World War II, starting with “From Here to Eternity” and followed by “The Pistol” (of which I have a first edition), “The Thin Red Line” and “Whistle,” which is unfinished. Jones died in 1977 while writing it. He was only 55 and died of congestive heart failure. Bypass surgery was not available at the time.

Jones was in the Army and stationed at Schofield Barracks in Oahu when it was attacked.  He was later wounded in action in the Pacific Theater.

“From Here to Eternity” (which climaxes with the attack) is the best novel about the peacetime army, as most critics agree, and I believe “The Thin Red Line” is the best novel about warfare. I couldn’t wait to get home from work to continue reading it. Between his war novels Jones wrote others, the second being “Some Came Running,” a huge novel–my paperback edition is 1,195 pages long, and that’s an abridged version–and was universally hated by everyone except the reading public. I loved it.

Because the critics hated it for its language and plot and characters, not to mention length, Jones deliberately wrote the short and straighforward novel “The Pistol,” a sort of sequel to “Eternity.” You can read it one sitting, which I intend to do tonight. “Whistle” concludes the themes he set out to explore starting with his first novel.

Jones’s work influenced me greatly when I began to write. Jones, as a person, also affected me as a fellow Midwesterner. He was born in Robinson, Ill., about 90 miles south of Chicago. He looked like a writer, lived in Paris, had a beautiful wife, had money, smoked Havana cigars–everything a 19-year-old aspiring writer wanted.

Willie Morris wrote a memoir about him titled “James Jones: A Friendship.” It’s a nice book to read if you want to learn more about him.  Click here to watch part one of of an interview with Jones.

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