Wilmington’s role in the Second World War receives national recognition
L egacyB y S i mo n G o n z a l e z
WILBUR JONES sat among the politicians and glitterati
gathered at the Battleship North Carolina on Sept. 2, brought
together for a historic occasion. The town — his hometown —
was being recognized as America’s first World War II Heritage
The keynote speaker called out a couple of dignitaries by name —
Rep. David Rouzer and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis — and asked them to
stand, acknowledging their role in the distinction. Then Jones heard
“I want to thank Wilbur,” the speaker said.
Jones served in the U.S. Navy for 28 years. The speaker was
Donald Trump, the president of the United States. He responded
“My first reaction was to stand immediately. He had asked Tillis
and Rouzer to stand,” Jones says. “You have to remember, I’m a
retired Navy man. And he’s the Commander in Chief. So I popped a
salute. And he returned my salute.”
A lot of thoughts flew through his mind during the brief moment.
Pride in being recognized, sure. Pride in the city, definitely. A touch
of disbelief that a dream — which often seemed like an impossible
dream — was finally realized. And maybe just a little relief that the
process was over at last.
“My hopes and dreams came true,” he says. “I consider that my
proudest day of honor. I’m just as proud as I can be for my home-town,
where I was born and raised. I’m so happy for Wilmington,
and I’m so happy for North Carolina. We’ve created a national
program. As the president said, at the same time so many people
want to tear down monuments, Wilmington is building one up.”
This moment, this day, this recognition happened because Jones
conceived the idea nearly 13 years ago.
Jones is a military historian, specializing in World War II. He has
authored 18 books, including two on wartime Wilmington.
“I was born and raised in Wilmington,” he says. “I was raised as a
boy during World War II. That’s all we knew growing up. We played
war; we followed the war news. I’ve always been interested in history
and our armed forces.”
That love of history, specifically the history of his hometown
during the Second World War, still burned brightly when he
returned home after a four-decade career spent in service to his
“When I moved back to Wilmington, I got interested in preserv-ing
history,” he says.
COURTESY OF NEW HANOVER COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY, NORTH CAROLINA ROOM
WBM november 2020