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By YUNG KIM, Staff Writer
Edwin Jones has two Purple Hearts sitting on his mantel for his military service in World War II.
The first medal was mailed to his mother, Agnes, in Cliffside Park after she was informed that her son was killed in action.
The second was awarded to Jones himself -- a couple of years later, after he was released from a German prison camp in 1945.
"I fooled them," Jones said. "When I got back, I took a walk around town. I found this memorial for people who died in the war and they had my name on it."
Jones, who lives alone in Hasbrouck Heights, had been feeling like a forgotten soldier again lately. The modest 88-year-old has shied away from veterans groups and reunions since the war, believing his experiences were ordinary.
He chose to save his stories for neighbor Lorraine Llauget and her family, who became an extended family for the widowed Jones.
Jones, who cringes when called anything except Ed or by his nickname, Doc, was getting used to living in obscurity for the last 50 years.
But Llauget -- the only person allowed to call him "Mr. Jones" -- was so moved by his stories and his collection of artifacts from the war that she felt compelled to get him some recognition.
"I keep having to tell him, 'You're important, Mr. Jones,' " Llauget said. She spent the last two years writing letters to various organizations and finally found a medal offered by the state.
So today, Jones will be in Washington, in Warren County, where he will add the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal to his collection once acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco ceremoniously pins it to his chest.
The recognition is uncomfortable for Jones, although he does feel honored. "All I ever was," Jones said, "was a buck private. The guy at the end of the line."
Llauget doesn't see it that way.
Listening to the stories drove her to rummage through Jones' dusty boxes of war mementos and fashion an album. Pages are filled with Nazi postcards, German beer labels, and a patch of a bird clutching a swastika which Jones ripped off the uniform of a German soldier.
The album also contains the letter that the War Department sent to his mother in Cliffside Park informing her of his death and his obituary in a local paper.
The military and his mother discovered Jones was alive when they received a postcard from him, which is also in the album. Prisoner-of-war camp officials passed out the postcards to all of the soldiers and mailed them to the Red Cross, Jones said.
Llauget is currently typing up Jones' diary to serve as the preface to the album. The diary is a day-by-day account of the war from when he boarded an American ship bound for England to the day he was liberated from the German camp.
"The stories he has to tell are amazing," Llauget said. "He lived through history."
Jones is just happy that he lived.
In September 1944, Jones' Army unit was climbing a hill in France when they came under heavy fire from German soldiers. Jones and several others jumped into a trench, but a machine gunner sprayed bullets into the mass of huddled men, killing soldiers in front of Jones and behind him.
Jones and one other survivor hid in the ditch for more than a day before they were captured and eventually shipped to Germany in a boxcar.
At a camp just outside Munich, Jones and hundreds of other prisoners worked 17-hour days clearing rubble from bombed-out buildings. At night, most of the prisoners gobbled a couple of potatoes and a few slices of bread, before passing out from exhaustion on a stone floor or on a flea-infested bed if they were lucky. Jones stayed awake, scribbling the day's events.
"I was up all the time anyway, swatting at fleas," Jones said.
Jones, who was liberated after 11 months in captivity, can still rattle off the number on his dog tags, but other memories are foggy. Dates become a jumble of numbers and events get mixed up.
Llauget reads passages from Jones' diary to refresh his memory, but at times he feels like he is listening to someone else's story.
"Its hard to believe it was me sometimes," Jones said.
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