Whenever someone mentioned pancakes, without fail Thomas E. Jones would immediately think of Harry Truman.
It’s an odd word association for sure, but it’s understandable given Jones’ unusual place in our nation’s history.
On Aug. 14, 1945, Jones, a 16-year-old messenger in Washington, D.C., was entrusted to deliver to the White House the cable announcing Japan’s surrender to the United States to end World War II.
Unaware of his cargo’s import, the boy, in cavalier teenage fashion, put work on hold to eat pancakes at a diner, hang out with his friends and flirt with waitresses.
Later, he left his pancakes to complete the job only to be pulled over en route to the White House by a police officer, who berated the boy for making an illegal U-turn.
Meanwhile, President Truman and his inner circle waited for the note that would change history.
Filmmaker Quincy Perkins stumbled upon Jones’ anecdote at the end of a sentence on page 461 of David McCullough’s Truman and became inspired to make a short film, The Messenger, that follows the boy’s eventful day. The film will get its first showings April 1 and 2 at the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival.
“It was such a large moment in history that nobody knows about, and I just love that,” says the director, 25. “I feel like an archaeologist in a way.”
Though TheNew York Times published a brief story of Jones’ troubles that day, details of the messenger’s trip to the diner never made their way into any accounts of what transpired – only the bit about the traffic infraction did.
“He didn’t tell the Times about that part because he was afraid he would lose his job,” says Perkins, who tracked Jones down last year in Allentown, Pa.
Jones, who went on to serve in the Korean War, marry and work in sales for a Pennsylvania steel corporation, died Dec. 31 after battling various illnesses. But Perkins was able to tape a series of interviews that would form the basis for his 16-minute film.
In one part of the interview, Jones, 76, recalls handing the president the letter: “He said, ‘What do you have for me, young man?’ I gave him the letter, and he opened it up and looked at it for a while and then patted me on the head and said: ‘It’s good news. It’s really good news.’ “
Pat Croce, former president of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and owner of a pirate museum in Key West, financed and executive-produced the film.
“I love history, ideally pirate history,” Croce says. “But when Quincy said he had this story that wasn’t even in Truman’s biography, I thought this film has to be made. … I told him, ‘Don’t settle for anything. Our goal is an Oscar.’ “
Perkins says he pulled out all the stops making the short movie.
“We did everything they tell you not to do,” the young filmmaker says. “We used extras, made a period piece, shot eight locations and used kids. This film theoretically should not have been made.”
But before Perkins could begin shooting the film, he needed to acquire the rights to Jones’ story. “He asked me, ‘How much will that cost me?’ And I said, ‘No, it costs me.’
“I sent him a check for $1,” Perkins says. “I have that framed now.”