Jones was born in 1921 in Robinson, Illinois.
He served in the US 25th Infantry Division during World War II, and was injured in the Battle of Guadalcanal.
His wartime experiences inspired some of his most famous works. He witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to his first novel, From Here To Eternity. He wrote The Thin Red Line about the Battle of Guadalcanal. From Here to Eternity won the National Book Award in 1952. It has been named one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library.
He assisted in the formation of the Handy Writers' Colony in Marshall, Illinois.
The posthumous publication of his novel Whistle in 1978 saw the completion of his war trilogy (the first parts being From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line), of which he wrote: "It will say just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us"