Issue 103, Summer 1987
The following interviews were excerpted and arranged from those conducted for “James Jones: Reveille to Taps,” a ninety minute television documentary, which was broadcast on PBS in 1983 and 1986. It was produced by J. Michael Lennon and Jeffrey Van Davis for Sangamon State University, Springfield, Illinois, and the Illinois Humanities Council in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lennon was the interviewer for the documentary; Davis was the director.
JoAnn Strange, school friend
I was in the seventh grade and he and two other students were in the eighth. We all lived in the same general neighborhood. We were walking home from school. It was a nice day, I think in the autumn of the year. He said, “Let’s go up to the clock tower of the courthouse so we can see all around. It’s wonderful.” It sounded exciting but a little bit —well, I thought it was not quite approved that we should do that. I was a pretty timid, goody-goody type. We had to walk up several flights of stairs into the tower, but nobody stopped us or said it was wrong or anything. There used to be a statue up at the top— the statue of justice with the scales and the blindfold. Anyway I remember we looked out and this statue was huge. I was amazed at how big it was. Then we went up two more flights and looked out. And you could see far away. Could even see little towns in the distance. So it was worth the effort. I was really glad I went, especially after Jim became famous. I was doubly glad. Yes, this tower’s no longer there. And they’ve changed the windows for air-conditioning and whatnot. So it’s not really as picturesque a courthouse as it was in those days.
Frank MacShane, biographer
The house where the Joneses lived was just a few yards from the public library and he would go over there a lot. Vera Newlin, the librarian, encouraged him as a boy. There were lots of books in the house. There was a literary heritage in the family itself His grandfather Jones had written a book, a curious document, about the illegality of the trial of Jesus Christ. And then Jones’s father, the dentist, was a poet. And the two other Jones children also were writers. His elder brother, Jeff, wrote a novel which James Jones eventually showed to Scribner’s and hoped they would take, which they didn’t. So there was a kind of family enthusiasm for literature.
Anis Skaggs Fleming, school friend
His father drank a great deal. Many people were afraid to go to him for professional services. But he did pull a tooth for me. He was a quiet man. His mother was just the opposite. She was a joiner. She wanted to be in everything, it never made any difference what it was she wanted to belong. What do you expect with a poor dentist struggling along to try to support a family and make a living and his wife joining everything? As far as Jim’s home life was concerned it was nothing.
After the stock market crash they were in reduced circumstances to the extent that it was necessary for Jim to carry papers, do anything he could, find odd jobs. And it went on. He never had the car. He wouldn’t think of inviting a girl on a date because he had no transportation. The librarian had an influence on him. A lovely person. Strict. She kept a good hbrary and you could go there to explore. She gave him directions in books that he should read. She kept telling him, “Now Jim, you should read this book,” and he followed.