DICE — Two soldiers became close friends during their time together at a discharge camp during World War II. After coming home, one of the soldiers spent the last 60 years tracking down his old friend.
Robert Lockard, 91, of Ohio searched for his old army buddy, Burnice Jones of Dice, for more than 60 years.
Unbeknownst to Lockard, Jones passed away in October 1983.
Both veterans served in the 354 Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army during World War II, which saw combat in Nazi Germany. Both of them were a part of Company F in the 89th and both held the rank of Private First Class.
Jones earned a Silver Star for his part in charging and destroying a machine gun nest during combat in Nazi Germany. He would also earn a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart during his time in the service.
Lockard said Jones was the first to raise his hand to volunteer for the mission, “Jonesey jumped up and said ‘I’ll do it,’ and away he went,” remembered Lockard.
Jones was given the nickname of “Jonesey” by Lockard and his fellow army buddies.
After volunteering, Jones, along with Sgt. Edward O. Evans and Pvt. John L. Hastings, crept up on the 20mm machine gun nest to destroy it.
The group was constantly under fire from the machine gun and sniper fire.
Despite being wounded by shrapnel, Jones continued to cover Sgt. Evans and Pvt. Hastings advance, even scoring a direct hit on the machine gun nest with a Bazooka round.
Forty-seven Nazi German soldiers surrendered after the attack, “All the men (German soldiers) jumped up and threw up their arms,” said Lockard.
Jones partially lost two of his fingers during the assault.
Lockard met Jones personally for the first time at Camp Lucky Strike in France after German surrendered in May 1945. The camp had turned into a processing center for soldiers waiting to go home.
“I think we were pitching tents the first time we met,” said Lockard.
They would spend the next six months becoming close friends at Camp Lucky Strike.
Both of them earned passes to New York the day before they were discharged and spent the day together exploring the wonders of New York.
“I wasn’t going to leave the service until I saw New York,” Lockard said.
The last time Lockard saw Jones was in Pennsylvania.
“I was a mess when I got home,” said Lockard.
He spent the better part of six months in bed because of his nerves from PTSD when he returned home from the war.
When Jones returned home from the war, he took care of his mother in Lost Creek.
Both veterans did not speak to their families about their experiences in World War II.
When Lockard began to feel better, he tried his best to find his old friend.
“I would be almost ready to give up,”Lockard said of each time he would search for Jones and his search would turn up nothing.
During his search, Lockard remembered a story Jones told him of where he was from. Jones told Lockard that Hazard was a town that couldn’t keep a sheriff.
“All at once it came to me,” said Lockard.
This is the third year Lockard and his wife Cindy have visited Hazard looking for Jones.
When he first starting coming down to Hazard, he didn’t know what to expect.
“I was determined to come down here,” said Lockard.
He went to the VFW in Hazard to find information, but they couldn’t give him any information.
This was the first year they had luck, said Lockard.
Lockard and Jones’s family began a correspondence in December 2015.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” Lockard said of the moment he discovered Jones had passed away in 1983.
Lockard met Jones’s family for the first time last Monday, “They have been so gracious and kind to me. They can’t do enough for us.”
Him and his wife visited Jones’s grave on Friday and reminisced about memories he shared with Jones.
Lockard said Jones was a long lost brother to him, and he wished he could have found him before he passed away.
“I can hear myself saying to him, ‘Jonesey, you remember so and so thing that happened,’ and he would say ‘Oh yeah, I remember.’ I can almost hear him say that,” said Lockard.
If there was one thing Lockard could say to Jones it would be, “Sorry I’ve came down here so late.”
TJ Caudill is a reporter with The Hazard Herald and he can be reached at 606-629-3245.