Graduate learned to put aside
horrors of Liberian civil war © May 17, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

George Jones says his terrifying childhood experiences with war in Liberia helped him maintain compassion during the war in Iraq.

photo by Stefan HardGeorge Jones says his terrifying childhood experiences with war in Liberia helped him maintain compassion during the war in Iraq.

When George Jones was overseas as a marine during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, he noticed a young Iraqi boy who never seemed to ask for anything. One day, Jones reached into his pack, pulled out his Gameboy Advance along with games and spare batteries, and handed them to the child. Another day, Jones spotted a young boy walking barefoot in 100-degree heat. This time, he offered a gift of his shower shoes.

Although compassion seems to come easily for Jones, a business management and accounting major who graduated with Norwich University’s Class of 2010, his life has been a difficult one. Born in Liberia, Jones survived a ruthless tribal war.

“What the Iraqis were going through, I could relate to them,” said Jones. “I know what it’s like to be displaced in your own country ... if I can help someone to make a life better, I’ll do it.”

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photos by Jay EricsonThis video shows images from the 2010 Commencement Weekend at Norwich University.

As the 1989 civil war raged, Jones’ family split to improve individual chances for survival. His mother and siblings left their home to live in a church compound, while his father went to a region occupied by the Liberian army.

The first bad news came: Jones’ paternal grandfather had been executed.

When things calmed down some, Jones, then 13, left to look for his father. He found him, and things began to look up as representatives from a supposed peace-keeping group told the men they would help them leave the country. It turned out to be a lie, however. They were turned over to a rebel group, and Jones’ paternal uncle was executed. His aunt miscarried from the stress.

Then, it was nearly his turn. Jones recalled a time when a boy lured him to a house where two girls waited with knife and rope to kill him because of his tribal heritage. With some quick thinking, Jones said he convinced them he was from a different tribe, explained away his lack of dialect and managed to escape.

“At this point in my life, all I wanted was revenge,” said Jones. “Imagine being 13 and going through this war and losing all of these family members? My plan was to get back at them.”

Jones’ father was finally able to flee, taking Jones and two of his siblings to Sierra Leone (he hasn’t seen his mother or other siblings since). Eventually, the four were granted political asylum in the United States, but Jones’ mind was still in the war. “My goal was, no matter where I go, I was going to come back and take revenge,” he said.

“I was fortunate the United States gave us the opportunity to pick up our broken pieces and put them back together,” said Jones. “I didn’t go back and take revenge, and one of the reasons is my dad told me [that] when someone kills your family, if you go ahead and kill those individuals then the circle is going to continue. So, someone’s got to be the better man: Stop the cycle and forgive.”

Jones credits his Christian faith and father’s guidance for the change of heart.

In the U.S., Jones would fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a U.S. marine. “I thought it was only fair to give back to the U.S.; to join the military and help train our sons and daughters to defend our country,” he said.

Norwich, where he attends under a Marine Corps program that helps soldiers become officers, turned out to be an ideal choice for further education. “The professors here at Norwich know your name, you are not just a number,” he said. “It’s like a family ... Classes end at 2 or 3 [p.m.], and they’d come in at 8 or 9 at night for study sessions. I don’t think I would have gotten that at ... the big universities.”

Alumni have been contacting Jones offering assistance toward the next step in his life. Jones, who lives in Barre with his wife and three children, hopes to commission in September 2010, at which point he would attend The Basic School in Quantico, Va., as a new officer.

A marine captain who thought highly of Jones suggested he apply to an officer program years before, and recommended Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college. Jones, however, replied he would never go to this school—it was in a cold, Vermont climate, a small town and a state with few minorities. Years later, however, Norwich’s lack of big-city distractions and focus on education led him to apply. It was months before Jones realized it was the same school the captain had talked about years ago.

“If I ever get a chance to meet him again, I will say, without any hesitation, with pride in my voice: I am a graduate of Norwich University,” said Jones.