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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Marching to the century mark: From Victoria, B.C., to L.A. and points in between, lively Jones keeps moving

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Bert Jones beamed as members of the Spokane AARP chapter sang “Happy Birthday” to him on Thursday.

“His birthday is July 18, but we don’t meet in July or August, so we decided to celebrate our oldest member at the June meeting,” said Kathy Fleming, Spokane chapter president.

Jones didn’t mind a bit. After all, he has another party coming up at VFW Post 51 on his actual birthday.

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1922, Jones and his family moved to Washington state when he was a kid and they became U.S. citizens.

He graduated from high school in tiny Forks, Washington, and tried to enlist in the Navy.

“They said I had a heart murmur,” he said. “I went to work for the phone company.”

In 1942, at age 20, he was drafted by the Army. Apparently, the Army couldn’t find any trace of a heart murmur.

“So I learned how to march,” Jones said. “Then they sent me to Europe.”

He worked as a communication specialist.

“My training at the telephone company saved me from the front lines,” he said. “I was so far behind the lines I couldn’t even hear the guns.”

Jones stayed in the Army and in 1950 took part in the Battle of Inchon during the Korean War.

His most compelling memory?

“Scrambling down the side of a troop ship on a rope ladder!” he said.

After 20 years and three days, Jones retired from the Army and was spared being sent to Vietnam.

He moved to Los Angeles and while watching television, inspiration for his next career struck him.

“I’d worked on helicopters at Fort Benning, Georgia,” he said. “I saw a reporter on a helicopter during the evening news and said, ‘Oh, hell, I can do that!’ ”

He paid for flying lessons and quickly mastered the aircraft he’d long been familiar with which led to a job in Seattle.

“I got a job doing traffic reports for KJR,” Jones said. “A gal did the talking and I did the flying.”

From Seattle, he headed to Alaska, where for 20 years he flew for TEMSCO Helicopters, before retiring at 65.

“I wanted to retire at 62, but they didn’t want me to,” he said. “Now I wish I would have kept working till I was 70 or 72.”

Thirty years ago, Jones moved to Spokane, where he joined a host of organizations from AARP to VFW to the Eagles. He met his wife, JoAnn Manley, at the Eagles Club. They’ve been married 11 years.

“He’s moving all the time!” Manley said.

Jones disagreed.

“I sit down when we watch ‘Gunsmoke’ or ‘Bonanza.’ ”

His taste in TV shows may be old-fashioned, but his preference for cars is definitely modern.

“I bought a hybrid last year,” Jones. “I can drive all the way to Seattle on a tank of gas.”

Yes, he still drives.

Married three times with no children, his advice for those wishing to make it to the century mark is twofold.

“Marry a younger wife and drink good whiskey,” he said.

When asked what the best part of turning 100 is, Jones grinned.

“Telling people I made it,” he said.