June 24, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Documents nominating Robert Jones for the Bronze Star, lost 35 years ago, have never been found.

Because of the lost papers, Jones now finds himself the center of a remarkable story.

The former La Grande resident received one of militarys most prestigious military honors earlier this year when he was finally presented the Bronze Star for meritorious service during the Vietnam War..

I was just elated. My military career is now complete, said Jones, now of Rexburg, Idaho..

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, presented the Bronze Star to Jones during a ceremony that was covered by several newspapers and television stations.

About two years ago Jones began efforts to have his lost Bronze Star nomination considered. He was able to reach the three commanding officers who had completed nomination forms earlier, and they willingly agreed to fill out new nominating forms.

I was so lucky to find them. I was worried that they were no longer alive, Jones said.

The Bronze Star honors Jones service in Southeast Asia from December 10, 1965 to Dec. 2, 1966, when he was assigned to the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at an Air Force base in Thailand.

As the base supply officer, Jones was responsible for making sure the bases aircraft was well maintained. He reduced the amount of time between the planes landing and subsequent launching on new missions, as well as the amount of time needed for repairs and maintenance. He oversaw 50 combat missions a day to North Vietnam.

Jones said that it is unusual for someone in the Air Force to receive a Bronze Star since it is not awarded for flying. Jones originally wanted to be an Air Force pilot but his vision was not good enough. Today Jones says that his imperfect vision proved to be a blessing.

Jones is a 1958 La Grande High School graduate. While growing up in La Grande had the largest Observer bicycle paper route in the city, delivering to 110 customers.

I learned small town values in La Grande. I learned that your word is your bond, Jones said.

Jones, son of the late Jim and Zeloris Jones, graduated from Oregon State University in 1962 and joined the Air Force in 1963. He served in the Air Force through 1983 when he retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel with 17 medals, citations and ribbons.

Jones next went to Saudi Arabia to work for BDM International, a defense contractor. Jones was based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabias capital until retiring in 1995. While in Riyadh, he said he experienced the greatest stress of his life evening Scud missile attacks from Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

Civil defense sirens would sound about three minutes before a Scud missile would hit.

Most of the attacks were at 1:30 in the morning, Jones said. They sent the missiles to terrorize civilians.

During the attacks, Jones hid under a table supported by bags of cat litter that were arrranged to create a bunker. Missile attacks were so regular that Jones and his family eventually started sleeping under the table every night.

Most of Riyadh residents moved out during the Persian Gulf War to escape the attacks. Jones said he refused to leave though because he felt an obligation to help the Saudi Arabian military. BDM International contracted with Saudi Arabias military to help operate a weapons system.

When his father asked him to leave Riyadh, the younger Jones refused, citing the lessons his father had taught him in La Grande.

It is your fault. You taught me to that when you make a commitment to be responsible. That is ingrained in me now, Jones told his father.