James Jones leaves the Army


Fort Campbell, Kentucky, under construction in 1942. In 1943-44, James Jones was stationed here after being wounded on Guadalcanal.

By George Hendrick

Dr. Hendrick is a retired University of Illinois English professor and department chair who served as the first president of the James Jones Literary Society. He has edited two books regarding Jones: To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones and To the End of the War.

Wounded on Guadalcanal in January 1943 and suffering from an injured ankle, the psychologically distressed James Jones (1921-1977) was sent to a hospital near Memphis, Tennessee. Once able to move about, Jones was given passes to go into Memphis. He took a suite of rooms in the Peabody Hotel, where there was non-stop drinking and casual sex. Jones soon grew tired of the sexual scene but his heavy drinking continued. He felt guilty about being alive when many of his comrades were dead on Guadalcanal. He feared his luck had run out, that he would be found fit for duty and be sent to England in anticipation of D-day. He was angry, filled with rage, and deeply depressed. He was not receiving any psychological help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Examined again, he was declared to be fit for duty. Because of his psychological state and his weak ankle, he had expected to be discharged. His reaction was to get drunk. He appealed for a reexamination, and this time he was classified as fit for noncombat duty. When his orders came in November 1943, he was assigned to the combat unit 26th Division, K Company, 101st Infantry Regiment preparing to be sent to England and then the invasion of France.

Angry and rejected, James went over the hill, taking an overnight train to Robinson, making his first visit since 1939. He stayed with his Uncle Charles and Charles’ wife Sadie. James Jones was obnoxious and drunk most of the time. Charles Jones believed that his drunken nephew was besmirching the Jones family name, just as the suicide of James Jones’s father, Dr. Ramon Jones, had dishonored the family. Aunt Sadie, afraid the two men would quarrel, decided to seek help for her nephew from Lowney Handy, an unofficial social worker in Robinson, who helpg pregnant girls, the down-and-out and troubled soldiers.

Married to Harry Handy, superintendent of the oil refinery there, Lowney was an unconventional free spirit who was interested in the Hindu religion, Theosophy and its founder, Mme. Helena Blavatsky, an occultist and spiritual medium. Sadie told Lowney, an unpublished writer, that Jones “thinks he wants to write.” Lowney agreed to see him.

Lowney described that meeting: “You should have seen him then. He swaggered; he wore dark glasses; he even asked me to read his poetry aloud. He had obviously come over for a free drink. Then he saw my books.” Lowney continued, “He flipped through them and plopped them back as if he were gulping down what they had in them.” Lost in the books, “The chip on the shoulder is gone,” Lowney said. “The poor guy. The poor lost guy.”

Jones’s poetry convinced Lowney, known for making quick decisions, that he was going to be a great writer. She would be a Pygmalion, helping him chisel his success. She would help him control his anger and erratic behavior. She was a true believer in Jones from the first day, probably November 3, 1943.

Jones returned to Lowney’s house the next day and took her to bed. Jones in some notes wrote that “she subjected herself to me, she made herself my disciple in everything from writing to love.” He was badly mistaken. The authoritarian Lowney had set out to dominate him, to alleviate his psychological problems, to get him discharged from the army, and to get him on the road to being a writer of renown.

At the end of two weeks, Jones returned to Camp Campbell; he was not court-martialed because a warrant officer had marked him “delayed in route.” Within a few weeks he was AWOL again, with Lowney and her husband, who did not object to her relationship with a troubled, aspiring writer. Upon his return to Camp Campbell at Christmas time, he was transferred to the 842nd Quartermaster Gas and Supply Company also stationed at Camp Campbell. He was soon made a company clerk. He was at work on his novel called They Shall Inherit the Laughter.

While he was busy as a clerk, he wrote his brother, “ideas, sentences, whole paragraphs would pop into my head – and I wasn’t able to write them down.” At night, he would write page after page of his novel, then tear them up and throw them away. To get a better environment for his work, he went AWOL again, probably about May 15, and stayed with artist friends in Indianapolis where, relieved from stress, he was able to write 20,000 words in two weeks.

Jones’s commanding officer, Captain Eugene A. Mailloux, inquired of Lowney where her protégé might be. She made telephone calls, located him in Indianapolis, and then went to Indianapolis to convince Jones to return to Camp Campbell. Lowney then wrote this disingenuous letter [her later handwritten marginal notes are in brackets]:

June 2, 1944 [4 days on D Day]

Captain Eugene A. Mailloux,

842nd Q.M. Gas Supply

Camp Campbell, Kentucky.

Dear Sir:

In answer to your inquiry concerning the whereabouts of my friend, Sgt. James R. Jones, I regret that I am unable to be of any help to you. I also want it on record that I will not assume responsibility for any of his erratic actions as he is the sort of person whose actions are positively unpredictable. Not that I mean this as derogatory, however, since you say you have checked with the men and studied his record I am certain you understand what I mean. I can furnish all sorts of proof from anyone living here in Robinson, his home town, as to his instability as an ordinary citizen, although harmless if left alone to work at the one thing he cares about.

Jones is an artist. He is very sensitive, and certainly far from conservative in his thinking. Like all artists he is not aware of any law, so cannot predict what he may do, am positive he has never understood the terms ethics as you and I define it. I have heard him say that when he was overseas he meant to kill his commander officer and that the only reason he did not do so was that the opportunity did not occur. [Capt. Mailloux had told me he meant to ship Jim overseas for D. Day This got him out at once – James read this while still in the Lock up was angry with me –.] This of course could have been a form of showing off, but I felt at the time that he spoke the truth.

On the other hand, I am sure, he is a writer of very rare promise. This is not only my own opinion but I have shown samples of his work to a number of people and they have been unusually impressed. Among these was Tom Uzzell, former fiction editor of Collier’s Weekly. All agree that he is brilliant, undoubtedly genius. If he is a poor soldier this will account for it, for genius is almost invariably remarkably astute in one line and utter failures in all others.

You say your aim is to help him. I am glad that he is in the hands of an understanding person who realizes that writers of his ability (my friends agree that he is in a class with Hemmingway [sic], Tom Wolfe, John Dos Passos, the few great develop so in a century.

If you are to check further with people living here in his home town, I suggest you write Bayard E. Heath, maker of the Heath Toffee Bar, who was a boyhood school friend of his father and [he] will confirm my state as to his lifelong instability and his suicide. Judge William B. McCarty will back this information that one of this father’s brothers was a gangster and ‘taken for a ride’ in East Saint Louis a few years ago. Also he will enlarge on the fact that another brother is a shyster lawyer, who had to leave here for a number of years, making his home in Florida because of crooked dealings. Dr. Sam S. Allen will give you medical statistics on the family histories of his parents, having the same instability on the maternal side. Mr. Maxwell Minor, one of his high school teachers, who still resides here will confirm his abnormal brilliance as well as all the trouble he caused the faculty. I have been told that he was son probation at this time, with talk of being sent to the reformatory, however, I cannot verify this and it may be nothing but gossip. But this I am sure, through his conversation to me, that he hates society and feels that he owes them nothing because of all the buffing around he has received. Both of his parents died while he was overseas and not yet twenty.

Again I wish to make it quite clear that I will not be held responsible for any of his notions, although I consider him quite harmless if he is allowed to follow his profession, I might even make it as strong as destiny. But there will never by any stability nor dependability in this character along the line of a good conservative citizen. This is the history of his case and even though I have made a tremendous effort on my part to help him and will do so again, I will not be accountable for anything he may do. I will wire or call you if I should hear of hers whereabouts.

Sincerely yours.

[Mrs. Lowney Handy]

I have not been able to verify that Jones wanted to kill his commanding officer. Jones’s Uncle Charles did not have a sterling reputation in Robinson. Jones’s Uncle Paul walked on the shady side, but I have not seen evidence that he was a gangster. I have seen no evidence that James Jones as a high school student was in serious trouble with the law.

Captain Mailloux responded to Lowney on June 7, 1944. Jones had returned on May 30, 1944: “As soon as he reported to me, I of course, put him under arrest. As I saw he was under some mental strain and in a very depressed mood, I called the Detachment Surgeon and had him placed under observation. They in turn are taking action toward a possible discharge under Section VIII, AR 615-630 (Inaptness or undesirable habits or traits of character).” Lowney and Jones knew the stigma attached to Section VIII discharges and wanted an honorable discharge for Jones. There was a major problem Jones had to overcome: because of his third AWOL he was to be court martialed.

Captain Mailloux assured Lowney that her letter of June 2, 1944, would be an exhibit, “to prove that he is mentally unbalanced.” The captain, however, believed that Jones was not mentally unbalanced and not Section VIII material. Instead, he asserted that Jones “is conceited, egotistical, selfish individual who thinks that he is a genius because a few people have told him so.” Still, the captain had certain sympathies for Jones, who had been wounded on Guadalcanal. Mailloux did say that whatever the medical decision was would also be his decision.

Captain Mailloux told Lowney that Jones should accept army orders “no matter what his personal feelings are. We all have a job to do these days and that personal ideals should be laid to one side until that job is done.” That is to say, Jones should expect to see duty in Europe.

Jones was sent to the stockade for a short time then moved to the neuropsychiatric ward for observation. Dr. Howard E. Roberts of the Medical Corps made these notes on June 1 about his interview with Jones: “Feels he had done his share and wants out to write because of intense desire to express himself. Says if he gets ordered overseas again he will commit suicide but the world will be the loser by missing his writing. Patient feels depressed mostly but has brief spells of elation. Sometimes he feels he stands outside of his body and see himself as an actor in a play. He has disturbed dreams and is bothered by memories of combat, blood, stench of death and hardships. Feels it was valuable to him tho as background for his writing.”

Dr. Roberts at first diagnosed “acute depression,” but after observing Jones’s “mood swings, compulsive behavior and some schizoid characteristics,” he also diagnosed psychoneurosis, mixed anxiety and compulsive types with schizoid trends.

Jones wrote to his brother Jeff on June 3 about his interview with Dr. Roberts. Jones thought he wasn’t believed when he said he would kill himself if ordered overseas again. If I don’t get out of the army, he wrote, “I’ll either go mad or turn into a criminal – which is just next door to a writer anyway; that all I want to do is write and that nobody and no thing means anything to me except writing.”

Lowney played on Captain Mailloux’s sympathy for Jones. She wrote him on June 10, 1944 saying she hoped he would continue to help her: “I agree with your statement that Pvt. Jones would be a tough job for somebody. And since you are convinced that I am the person to undertake it will do everything I possibly can. I am most anxious to work with you, since you are willing to see that he gets every opportunity as long as he is not favored above the group.” Lowney was going to be in Kentucky later in the week and hoped to talk with Captain Mailloux. She probably did see him. She did see Jones, and she undoubtedly gave him advice on how to present himself to Dr. Roberts and the Medical Board.

Captain Mailloux had also written to Jones’s brother, Jeff, and Jeff was then interviewed by a social worker. The social worker reported that Jeff believed his brother was a man of principle and honor but too much the individualist to fit into the army.

Captain Mailloux was away from Camp Campbell for a short time and Lt. Fred F. De Palma wrote Lowney on June 21, 1944, that he had seen Pvt. Jones in the Station Hospital the day before and he was dismissing the court-martial against Jones, allowing the Medical Board of Officers, meeting that night, to review the case and render a decision. De Palma had good news: “It’s almost a certainty that Jones will be discharged.” He continued, “The boy seemed to be relieved.”

Lt. De Palma assured Lowney that Captain Mailloux “probably exhausted every opportunity in helping out Jones.” De Palma had written to the captain the night before to bring him up-to-date on the Jones matter. De Palma wrote, “It’s just as he planned it.” The captain had changed his mind; his original view was that Jones should be sent to Europe.

Captain Mailloux still being absent, Lt. De Palma wrote Lowney on June 26, 1944: “It’s happened. Jones is now Jimmy. The only time he’ll see private is on a swinging door. We got his records completed here as soon as possible and transferred to the casual company that actually does the discharging.” The certificate of disability stated that at the time of enlistment Jones’s psychoneurosis was not in existence, and since it was not fault of his own he should be discharged “for disability in line of duty, and not due to his own misconduct.” Jones received an honorable discharge on July 6, 1944. Lowney claimed credit for the discharge. She did help change the captain’s mind.

For Jones’s wounding & transfer to Memphis, see MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 54-62.

For Jones’s first AWOL and his meeting with Lowney Handy see A.B.C. Whipple, “James Jones and His Angel,” Life, May 7, 1951, pp. 142, 144, 147, 149, 150, 152, 154, 157. Jones wrote about his going AWOL and meeting Lowney in They Shall Inherit the Laughter; those chapters are included in To the End of War, ed. by George Hendrick. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, pp. 25-107.

For Jones on Lowney as his disciple, see To Reach Eternity, page 37. For Jones’s behavioral problems in Robinson while AWOL, and with his differences with his Uncle Charles, see To the End of the War, pp. 69-107, 147-150 & MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 61-70.

For Jones’s writing before going AWOL for the 3rd time, see To Reach Eternity, p. 43.

The letter of Lowney Handy to Captain Mailloux, June 2, 1944, is from Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield.

Captain Mailloux to Lowney Handy, June 7, 1944; Mrs. Lowney Handy to Captain Mailloux, June 10, 1944; Lt. Fred F. De Palma to Lowney Handy, June 21, 1944; and Lt. De Palma to Lowney Handy, June 26, 1944, are from Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield. Dr. Roberts’s notes on James Jones are from Frank MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 68-70.

For Dr. Roberts’s psychiatric report on Jones, see MacShane, Into Eternity, p. 69.





Snapshots from 2015 JJLS Symposium

Their stories told. Their voices heard.


Above, past James Jones First Novel Fellows, seated from left, Stephen Policoff, Leslie Schwartz, Greg Hrbek, and in back, Mary Kay Zuravleff, Robin Oliveria, Louise Wareham Leonard.


Their stories told. Their voices heard.

At the November 2015 symposium of the JJLS, six former James Jones First Novel Fellows reflected on how the fellowship has changed their lives — making it possible for their stories to be told, their voices heard.

The following fellows participated in a panel discussion at the symposium. In addition to having their winning entries published, each has gone on to publish subsequent books.

Greg Hrbek (1996 Fellow)

Most recent book: Not on Fire, But Burning (Melville House 2015)

Twenty-year-old Skyler saw it from the window: a metallic object that descended from the sky at terrific speed, slowed above the Golden Gate Bridge, and then severed the bridge’s suspension cables before a toxic mushroom cloud lifted above San Francisco . . .

Flash-forward to a future America, where no one knows who was responsible for the explosion in San Francisco—or even what that explosion was, exactly—but Muslims have nonetheless been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west. In suburban New York, Skyler’s little brother Dorian is twelve and dreaming about killing Muslims . . . when his next-door neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories.

That simple act of benevolence will set off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that force an entire community to reckon with their most deeply held beliefs, and—for Dorian—will lead to either tragedy or redemption.

From a NPR review:

Hrbek shifts deliriously between first-, second- and third-person points of view, not to mention past, present and future tense. At first this feels annoyingly gratuitous; gradually, though, this piecemeal perspective reveals a deeper purpose. Not on Fire toys with the edges of meta, slipping here and there into a dizzying self-awareness that underscores Hrbek’s running commentary about the fractured nature of reality. At the same time, the story stays solidly rooted in a propulsive, suspenseful plot, full of lyrical dialogue and gorgeous language. It isn’t easy to unpack, but Hrbek rewards the effort with head-spinning subversions of what speculative fiction is expected to do. There are no clear answers or pat explanations. And as Dorian and Karim become drawn, each in their own way, toward violent extremism, the book takes time to meditate meaningfully on hate, fear, faith and what sets us on paths that we often feel powerless to depart.


Louise Wareham Leonard (1999 Fellow)

Most recent book: 52 Men (Red Hen Press, 2015)

52 Men is taut, spare and highly compressed autobiographical fiction for the mobile age, it is immensely funny and sexually charged.

From an interview with Caroline Leavittville:

You’re a critically acclaimed poet. Did writing fiction come naturally to you? How different was it?

For me the hardest thing, was finding the right form to express my experience. For a long time, I thought I was supposed to be a traditional novelist – but I struggled with, for example, multi-generational psychological dramas that seemed to make sense of everything.  I couldn’t fit my life or past into that; nothing matched up neatly, it seemed impossible to find one way to see things, one vantage point that stayed the same. I thought for a time that poetry would work best for me because it has hidden spaces and is subtle and oblique.  Yet as soon as I started to create my own kind of work – a mix of styles, – a kind of intense ‘poetic’ prose, with space and elision and the ability to change directions and emotions, I felt happiest. Quickness, lightness, intensity, that’s what I love in language, in hybrid works, in texts that use different forms. http://louisewarehamleonard.com/

Robin Oliveira (2007 Fellow)

Most recent book: I Always Loved You (Viking 2014)

From an interview:

In this book, you write about the process of being and becoming an artist. Did you find a connection between writing and art? Do you paint?

I have painted and drawn as a hobby, but I am not an artist. In fact, my forays into that area were gently discouraged by an art teacher at the University of Washington Extension. But as I wrote this story, I did find a great deal of connection between the two disciplines. To be an artist is to be an artist, no matter the medium. All artists face either a blank page or a blank canvas or a block of stone or….it can go on and on, because art has many guises and many mediums. But the process and fears, to me, are the same. It was a relief, in many ways, to discuss the difficulties of producing art through the eyes of painters. I felt freer to explore what I perceive to be the truth about creative work.

 What is your writing routine?  

I, like Degas and Cassatt, keep regular working hours. I write for at least six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how much my brain will tolerate. I can usually tell when my brain has turned off; I have found that trying to continue to write after that is a waste of time. Mostly, I write on a treadmill desk, which means I have an elevated desk with a treadmill underneath. I walk at about 1.1 miles per hour while I compose. However, depending on my task—rewriting or editing—I sometimes write lying in bed or sitting outside on the front terrace, but only when it’s not raining.


Stephen Policoff (2004 Fellow)

Most recent book: Come Away (Dzanc Books 2014)

Who is the small, greenish girl Paul Brickner repeatedly sees skittering around the edge of his yard in upstate New York? No one else seems to see her. Ever since Spring was injured in a fluke fall, Paul has been possessed with the anxiety that he might lose her.

From an interview with Serious Reading:

I have been told that my novels are slipstream. I’m not really sure what that means, and certainly I never had any thought about what genre I was writing.  My novels seem to be dark domestic comedies with a mild buzz of the supernatural. My first novel, Beautiful Somewhere Else, involved possible alien abduction on a vacation to Cape Cod; Come Away features the lore of the changeling and repeated sightings of a sinister green child within a happy marriage in upstate New York. My novel-in-progress has a ghost or two. I suppose that the boundary-crossing (is this a literary novel? Is this fantasy?) perplexes some people, which is OK with me.  Maybe that’s what slipstream means?


Leslie Schwartz (1997 Fellow)

Most recent book: Angels Crest (Doubleday 2004)

Living in a small town in the mountains of California, Ethan Denton is a lucky man. Most things have gone his way, and being granted full custody of Nate, his young son, has given him a near-perfect life. On a crisp winter morning just before the start of deer season, Ethan and Nate set off together to discover the beauties of the forest. As he parks the truck, Ethan spots a pair of magnificent bucks and, eager to take a closer look, leaves Nate asleep in the car seat, a brief, impulsive decision any parent might make. When he returns only a few minutes later, the door of the truck is open and Nate is nowhere to be seen. Ethan and other members of the community search for the missing three-year-old, their fears rising as an unexpected blizzard blankets the woods.

From an interview with the Writer’s Program:

What are the most detrimental things that keep a writer from getting words onto the page? What can be done about it?

The first thing is that writers worry too much about getting published when they don’t even have a first draft. Or they worry too much about what people will think, especially if the novel is thinly disguised autobiography. Writers should have more fun, and worry less. Secondly, new writers really need to understand that writing is all about revision. And this takes time. New writers get too wrapped up in this feeling that they need to hurry up and finish, rather than participate calmly in the experience of writing, which is so sublime, really, and in some ways, infinitely more rewarding than publishing. Finally, writers must read and they must constantly find a way to improve their work. All of these things take enormous courage and perseverance and I think above all else the people who get published are the ones who just keep plugging away, no matter how hard it might seem.


 Mary Kay Zuravleff (1994 Fellow)

Most recent book: Man Alive! (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013)

All it takes is a quarter to change Owen Lerner’s life. When lightning strikes the coin he’s feeding into the parking meter, the pediatric psychiatrist survives, except that now he only wants to barbecue. The bolt of lightning that lifts Dr. Lerner into the air sends the entire Lerner clan into free fall, and Man Alive! follows along at that speed, capturing family-on-family pain with devastating humor and a rare generosity. This novel explores how much we are each allowed to change within a family—and without.

From an interview with Fiction Writers Review:

During your book launch, you shared with the audience that you originally wrote Man Alive! in past tense but revised the entire manuscript in present tense. Why?

The novel was supposed to be done, and as I was rereading it in past tense, I realized it was too slow. The problem was pacing. The visualization I had in my head was that the family was arranged like billiard balls on a pool table and the lightning strike hits cue-ball Owen, which in turn scatters them in all directions. The reader is supposed to feel like she is just holding on for the ride; in past tense, that urgency was lost.  First, I trimmed language, the flowing, surreal account of what Owen felt and imagined in his scrambled brain. But that made it too truncated, too staccato. I realized that the problem was tense. If I wanted the reader in the fire with Owen, present is the more empathetic tense. Usually, present tense slows things down because it takes so long to get anywhere, right? Past tense is one of elision. You can really travel in past tense. But for Man Alive! I needed the reader to be right inside the flames.