On Wednesday, May 22, the Wilton Kiwanis Club hosted a Memorial Day luncheon as part of its weekly lunch program. World War II veteran Doug Jones, a Kiwanis member and longtime Wilton resident, was the keynote speaker for this year’s event.

Mr. Jones served in the Army Transportation Corps after being drafted in 1943, and was eventually selected to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). After being trained in civil engineering and discharged from the Army, Mr. Jones began a career as a civil engineer — specializing in transportation systems.

“He became a civil engineer who helped build the Grand Coulee Dam,” Kiwanian Paul Hannah noted during an introduction, “and, if you talk to Doug, every major facility in the country!”

In the beginning of his speech, Mr. Jones quoted an editorial published in 2004 in The Wilton Bulletin that featured his words. He stressed the need for the United States, and for the rest of the world, to change for the better.

We must “move beyond war to a better place,” he said. “Our world is getting smaller each and every day. And we must learn to live together, which is easily said — but more difficult to put into practice.”

“What we need,” he continued, “is a new generation of leaders dedicated to peace and freedom.”

He was lucky, he said, that he was sent to be trained as a first lieutenant, rather than remaining with his original unit: the 447th Port Company. The 447th was an all-black regiment at a time when the U.S. Army was still legally segregated. That company, he said, suffered heavy losses after being deployed to Europe while he was attending OCS.

Mr. Jones moved to Wilton in 1953, and has lived “in the same town, with the same wife, and up until three years ago, with the same boat” for almost 60 years. “I guess you could say I’ve lived a rather boring life,” he added with a chuckle.

Quoting a previous speech by 2nd Lt. David Close, also of Wilton, Mr. Jones implored the audience to close their eyes, and imagine the sights and sounds of a surprise German mortar attack taking place during World War II.

“You are an America infantryman. Together with your comrades, lounging during a rest break, in a similar peaceful countryside,” he quoted. “Suddenly, your world explodes. Mortars drop silently from the sky, and explode like a dozen fatal auto accidents all around you. After that first mind-bursting explosion, your hearing temporarily leaves you, and will hopefully return hours later.”

Your hearing, he quoted, was the least of the worries.

“As your hearing returns you hear moans and screams all around you. You become aware of your platoon leader yelling incomprehensible orders. For you, this is a defining moment that you will remember forever. Either you absorb the shock, put it aside, shrug your shoulders and slowly begin to soldier on, or fear will lock up your mind solid and refuse any more violent input. You are not a coward; you have no control over your gut reactions. Again and again, you ask yourself, Is this just dumb luck that I’m still alive? Is this all fate, or has the shell with my number on it not showed up yet?

“War is hell is a common theme in Memorial Day speeches,” he read at one point, “and a truism that cannot be said enough, or overstated.”