By Chip Crews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 1, 2006
For Thomas E. Jones, the last day of World War II offered, quite literally, 15 minutes of fame. Now, six decades later, the Montgomery County resident has received an unwanted 16 minutes more.
The new short movie "The Messenger," directed by Florida filmmaker Quincy Perkins, purports to tell the story of Jones's brush with U.S. history on the afternoon of Aug. 14, 1945. But Jones, 76, feels compelled to respond to the film, saying: "I just wanted to set the story straight."
Also wanting to set the record straight is his family, as well as the film's executive producer, Pat Croce, they said. The movie created a stir this week when Croce -- author, motivational speaker and former president of the Philadelphia 76ers -- announced that Perkins had deceived him and had hired an actor to portray the older Jones for interview footage in the film.
In a dramatized portion of the 16-minute film, Jones, a 16-year-old courier, is seen at work at the RCA communications office on Connecticut Avenue NW when a cable arrives announcing Japan's acceptance of the Allied demand for surrender. The young Washingtonian is told to deliver the message to the White House but, feeling no urgency, he stops at a diner to eat pancakes and socialize. After getting back on the road, he is cited by a police officer for an illegal U-turn, further delaying the delivery.
During an interview scene in "The Messenger," a man identified as Jones recalls hand-delivering the telegram to President Harry S. Truman at the White House. And the film -- which is dedicated to Jones -- indicates that he lived in Allentown, Pa., and died in December.
The real Thomas E. Jones, a retired C&P telephone worker, quietly begs to differ. "Even though I've had a lot of health problems," he said yesterday, "I'm still around."
Croce, who supplied the movie's $100,000 budget, urged the Philadelphia Film Festival to cancel screenings of the film that were scheduled for tonight and tomorrow. Spokesman Andrew Preis said the Philadelphia Film Society, which presents the festival, had complied with Croce's request.
Perkins did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment.
Based on newspaper accounts that appeared Aug. 15, 1945, there is some truth to the cinematic account. Young Thomas was a courier at RCA in 1945. The coded message that came in at 4:15 p.m. a day earlier was from Bern, Switzerland. Jones and another RCA employee, Earl Allison, were instructed to deliver it by car to the nearby Swiss Legation, where it was to be decoded and relayed to Truman.
Allison reportedly made an illegal U-turn at Connecticut Avenue and M Street and was stopped by a police officer, who lectured the two about traffic safety before issuing Allison a ticket. The cable reached the legation about 15 minutes later than it otherwise would have, in effect delaying the end of the war.
Jones never went to the White House that day, he said yesterday, and never met Truman. Asked whether he'd gotten hungry for pancakes, he said emphatically, "Not at 4 in the afternoon!"
In his 1992 biography "Truman," David McCullough offers a brief account of the incident but omits any mention of Allison. Perkins acknowledged in a March 14 interview with USA Today that he learned of the story from "Truman," which might explain why Allison does not appear in "The Messenger."
Jones expresses no anger about the film. His six children, though, said they feel differently. "I think the first word we all came to was 'incensed,' " said daughter Vicky Jones of Frederick.
The family members said they became aware of the film last month when a relative heard it being discussed on the radio.
"We were just Googling sites," Vicky Jones said. "I started e-mailing as many addresses as we could find. I said, 'I need to speak to Quincy Perkins ASAP regarding inaccuracies in his film.' "
She said Perkins called her Sunday, but she refused to divulge what he told her then. He called again Monday, she said, and "said he wanted to make arrangements to come down and see my father. I haven't spoken to him since."
Croce said this week that Perkins called him Sunday and admitted that the man identified in the film as the older Jones was an actor.
"I believed in Quincy," Croce said. "His father is my buddy. . . . When he called me Sunday night, I was shocked -- stone-cold-silent shocked. We believed his story -- we believed everything. It was like getting kicked in the stomach."
Thomas Jones's reaction initially was "pretty laid-back," said his son Michael, pastor of two Catholic churches, St. Benedict the Moor in Northeast Washington and St. Vincent de Paul in Southeast. "The turning point . . . was when we told him what we were seeing on some of the Web sites -- you know, 'Slacker Goes for Pancakes, Delays the End of World War II,' " the son said. "This is our family history."
For Thomas E. Jones and his wife, Nancy, who will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary next week, the film offered an unexpected family reunion. Yesterday, all their children -- Michael, Vicky, daughters Sharon Jones of Plantation, Fla., and Holly Webb and Christal Messett, both of Silver Spring, and son Greg of Frederick -- assembled at St. Benedict the Moor to support their father.
As for "The Messenger," its future is unclear. Croce said that he had no knowledge of any future screenings and that his primary concern is the interview footage.
"My lawyer told [Perkins's] lawyer that it's not to be aired," he said. "He swears that he talked to Thomas E. Jones initially. That's not for me to decide. I want what I know to be false to be removed from the film. I want my name off the credits."
Told of Perkins's claim, Thomas Jones responded, "He might have tried to get in touch with me, but he never did."