Last week’s column about J.B. Stone’s crusade for justice for Navy veterans who had been the victims of shipboard testing of hazardous materials brought a lot of positive response, but sadly also bad news.
As I noted last week, J.B. had faded off the radar back in 2013 after many years as an active letter writer and commenter at www.dailyinterlake.com. After my column appeared, I heard from some other fans of J.B. who also wondered what had happened to him. I wasn’t able to find any conclusive evidence of his fate online, and thought there was a chance he might be in a nursing-care facility somewhere.
Alas, one reader shared the news with me that J.B. had died almost anonymously in Whitefish on Dec. 11, 2013. There was no death notice or obituary published, but the reader happened across a mention of his death on Ancestry.com. Even with that lead, I wasn’t able to find anything definite on his death, but a legal notice published one year later, in December 2014, confirmed the bad news, as the home J.B. had owned with his mother Philomena Row, was put up for trustee’s sale, following non-payment starting in December 2013.
Philomena, who had died in 2009, was herself just as fiery a patriot as her son, and had her share of letters published in these pages in the short time she lived here before her death. When I met Philomena, I knew exactly why J.B. was so opinionated and so colorful. She also has the distinction of being the only reader in our memory who prepared and purchased a huge Christmas luncheon for the entire Inter Lake staff. She brought enough food to fill at least four tables in our lunch room to “give something back” to the newspaper, which she treasured as the heartbeat of the community.
The last letter I could find by her that was published in the Inter Lake was from 2008 and was her unsolicited praise of this newspaper, published under the title “Vote of confidence.” I had forgotten it, but am happy to reprint it today:
“How many cars, trucks, bicycles whiz by the Daily Inter Lake building in Kalispell on a daily, hourly or weekly basis? Our American flag helps to point to the spot of reliability.
“To all of you at the Daily Inter Lake located on East Idaho close to Underpass Hill on the north side of the street — to each and every one of you — you are my dependable true faithful companion every day of the week.
“Your publication is not whizzed through. I slowly devour the printed matter until tomorrow.
“My appreciation to all of you. You begin my day. What I make of my day is entirely my choosing and doing. But thank goodness for my tomorrows and for you! —Philomena D. Row, Kalispell.”
I am also thankful for discerning readers such as Philomena and for the spirit she instilled in her son that led him to volunteer in the Navy at a young age, and then spend the next 40 years trying to get justice for himself and his shipmates who were subjected to unthinkable chemical experimentation by the Pentagon while on assignment in the Pacific.
As the reader who let me know J.B.’s fate said, “He was a constant thorn in the side of the military as well as a sometimes annoyance to his friends. Sometimes we could just listen to him no more.”
But she concluded: “We always need the J.B. Stones of the world. He had a justifiable cause and just wouldn’t let go. I think his persistence made a difference.”
Indeed it did, and on Nov. 16, Congress passed a bill to declassify military records of veterans such as J.B. so that they can get the health benefits they are entitled to. Though J.B. was silenced in 2013 by the health issues brought about by his service to the nation, there is no doubt that his loud voice has left a mark. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org