One of the most influential novelists of the mid-20th century to deal with the subject of war, James Jones was something of a fixture in Hollywood as a source of great books. James Ramon Jones was born in Robinson, IL, in 1921, the son of Ramon Jones, a dentist, and the former Ada Blessing. The stock market crash in October 1929 destroyed the family's finances, and Ramon later sank into alcoholism, while Ada was crippled by diabetes. Seeing limited prospects in front of him and eager to separate himself from his family, James enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1939 and was stationed in New York, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone, and California, before he was transferred to the Army Air Corps in Hawaii.
Jones was present when Pearl Harbor was attacked and served in the defense of Hawaii; while awaiting reassignment to a combat area, he took some literature and writing courses at the University of Hawaii. In late 1942, he was shipped out for the Solomon Islands, and, in January 1943, participated in fighting on Guadalcanal. Jones's army record was marred by his going AWOL in late 1943 after he was denied leave and his request for a limited duty assignment was ignored. In the late winter of 1944, he was suddenly promoted to sergeant, though by then was manifesting enough mental problems that he was sent to a psychiatric unit for observation. In the summer of that year, after being diagnosed with a psychoneurotic disorder, he was honorably discharged. Jones later moved to New York (briefly attending New York University) and then to North Carolina before returning to live with the Handys in Robinson, IL, where he spent five years working on the book that became From Here to Eternity, receiving encouragement from two Scribners editors, Maxwell Perkins and Burroughs Mitchell. Meanwhile, Jones published his first short story, Temper of Steel, in Atlantic Monthly during 1948.