A former AFRO paperboy who went on to serve 30 years in the Navy hopes to complete his memoirs in the new year.

Master Chief Electrician (ret.) Matthew Jones Jr.’s story, as told to the AFRO, starts in the integrated community of Crestas Terrace, a historic suburb of Pennsylvania, then takes him to the southernmost extreme of the United States and then across the globe offshore from Vietnam.

Matthew Jones’ Boot Camp picture. (Courtesy photo)

Kicked out of his home by his father, Jones enlisted in the US Navy on Christmas Eve 1947. Arriving at Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command, Jones discovered that he was one of only three Blacks in his company, and by the time he was enrolled in Electrician’s Mate A School, he was the only one in his class.

The now-88-year-old recalls one particular night when he was tending to his duties in the barracks and heard two White sailors approach, drunk and disorderly after their return from liberty.

Matthew Jones’ retirement from the Navy picture. (Courtesy photo)

“Where’s that ni–er?” one reportedly asked.

Jones quickly went to a Coke machine and recovered two empty glass bottles. Smashing their ends off, he confronted the pair and challenged, “Which one of you motherf—krs want to die?”

Shore patrol arrived soon after and delivered the trio to captain’s mast, a pre-court martial tribunal, the next morning.

Former President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which abolished discrimination in the Armed Forces, on July 26, 1948, but this captain’s mast was the first Jones has heard of the law. His captain, addressing the discriminatory incidents, reportedly said, “I will not have any more of this crap that you guys are doing; I will make this thing work.”

Jones finished his training as part of a generation of sailors that served almost their entire careers in an integrated Navy. The confrontation was the second to last time he was hit with the n-word slur in the Navy. The final instance was at US Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla., still deep in the segregated South. Jones served for 30 years, and was even called upon as a leader to quell racial unrest while at sea, albeit though significantly more peaceful means.

Race riots aboard ships were of real concern to naval command and sailors, alike. Jones’ younger brother Cornell was serving on the USS Kitty Hawk, which was taken out of service by an October 1972 riot led by Blacks. The Vietnam War ended before the ship could be returned to duty.

Likewise, during that time of racial unrest in the U.S., tensions also were mounting on Jones’ ship the USS Pyro. A Nitro-class ammunition ship, the Pyro serviced the Kitty Hawk and many other vessels of the US Seventh Fleet stationed at Point Yankee off the coast of Vietnam.

Word of Black Power leaders Huey Newton and Angela Davis had reached Jones and his shipmates at sea. As Jones recalled of one incident, Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the first Black ship commander, first Black fleet commander and first Black flag officer, was approaching the ship when he was greeted by radicals on the ship’s side.

“They had black gloves on their fists hollering ‘Black Power! Black Power!’” Jones said.

The radicals later struck and refused to complete their duties. Jones was summoned by the captain and given the task of resolving the conflict. After finding the sailors’ work environment more in line with their civilian experience back home, Jones took steps to create a culture on ship that welcomed Blacks. Issues of Jet and Ebony were stocked in the lounge libraries, Black hair care products were stocked in the ship’s store and the ship’s mess began a rotation of meals reflecting  the ethnicities of the crew: Italian, Polish and Black, for example.

“I only had two Black people working for me and I never worked for a Black officer,” Jones said. “It was normal for me to learn how to deal with all these different people from all over the country, who came in from Mississippi and Brooklyn and stuff like that. I learned the skill of how to get along with people and how to make people get along with each other and I still do that in life now.”

After his second tour in Vietnam, Jones came to Washington, D.C., and found himself on the other side of the recruiting desk. When he retired from the Navy, he returned to newspapers and found himself in charge of a paper route for The Evening Star and security for The Washington Post.

Jones, with the assistance of his friend Jim MacDonald, is compiling all his stories in one larger work that he hopes to publish by Jan. 1, 2018.