MUCH OF THE HISTORY was preserved in a museum established at the Hannah Block USO
Building in downtown Wilmington, which itself was an important part of the war effort. From 1941 to
1945, about 35,000 uniformed personnel a week came to town for dancing, recreation and entertainment.
As Jones considered the area’s vast involvement, the germ of an idea began to grow. Wilmington should
be recognized for its World War II legacy.
“I came up with the idea in late 2007,” he says. “When 2008 began, I began contacting the city council
and county commissioners about proclaiming Wilmington as a heritage city.”
Those efforts quickly bore fruit. The city and county
governments issued official declarations recognizing
Wilmington as a World War II City.
It was a good start, but Jones wanted national recogni-tion.
WBM november 2020
To accomplish that, he had to wade into the murky
waters of the legislative process.
“It was a classic case study of how to get things done
through Congress,” Jones says. “It was an amazing coop-erative
effort from volunteers, elected officials, govern-ment
staff, the media, and our congressional delegation.”
Jones, a former assistant to Republican President
Gerald Ford, began by working with U.S. Rep. Mike
McIntyre, a Democrat. They established the criteria
— what did your city do to support the war effort, and
what are your efforts to preserve that history — and
created the first draft of what would become the legis-lation.
In the beginning Jones also worked with Gov. Bev
Perdue, Sen. Kay Hagan and N.C. Rep. Susi Hamilton,
all Democrats, and Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican. Burr
helped for several years, then turned it over to Tillis, a
Republican. Rouzer, a Republican, took the torch when
he was elected in 2014 following McIntyre’s retirement.
The effort started when George W. Bush was president,
continued during Barack Obama’s tenure, and finally
happened during the Trump administration.
“It was totally bipartisan,” Jones says. “It was never
intended to be political or partisan. I didn’t give a hoot
or holler who was in the White House. I just wanted the
president to come to Wilmington and sign the declaration
on the Battleship North Carolina.”
It took so long because it had never been done. When
Jones first approached McIntyre with the idea, he was
hoping for something as simple as a congressional declara-tion.
He learned it had to be done through the legislative
process, which entailed creating the criteria for a munici-pality
to seek recognition as a WWII Heritage City.
Jones made several trips to Washington, testifying
twice before congressional committees.
“This entire project has taken an enormous amount of
patience,” he says. “I’m a volunteer. I never had a position
of authority. I had no pull, no leverage. In my later years
— I’m now 86 — I’ve acquired at least the ability to realize
when one should keep one’s mouth shut and look for the
right opportunity. I had to be extremely diplomatic and
Clockwise from top: During World War II, U.S. Army soldiers performed
anti-aircraft training at Fort Fisher and Camp Davis in nearby Holly Ridge.
U.S. submarine Perch visits Wilmington on January 16, 1937. The Medal
of Honor was awarded to New Hanover High School graduates Charles P.
Murray, Jr. and William D. Halyburton, Jr. (posthumously) for their actions
during World War II.
SUBMARINE AND PORTRAITS COURTESY OF NEW HANOVER COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY, NORTH CAROLINA ROOM NORTH CAROLINA OFFICE OF ARCHIVES & HISTORY
NORTH CAROLINA OFFICE OF ARCHIVES & HISTORY