Dwight Anthony Jones was born August 31, 1948, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Evans and Ruby Jones. Dwight and his older sister Patricia Lynn obtained their primary and secondary educations in the segregated schools of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. In high school, Jones was a noted All-City defensive lineman, and helped lead Carver High to several championships. Although highly recruited, Jones decided to forego college. Following graduation from high school in 1966, he began working a series of jobs at local factories. On May 17, 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, Jones was drafted into the United States Army. After completing his basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and advanced infantry training at Fort Ord, California, Jones was deployed to Vietnam, where he served as an ammunition bearer for a machine gun unit in the 199th Infantry Brigade for nine months. During his stint in Vietnam, Jones experienced the usual horrors of war unique to combat soldiers: continual firefights with enemy soldiers, disease, sleepless nights in mosquito-infested climates, ambushes, injury to fellow soldiers, and death.
When his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in October of 1969, he returned to Winston-Salem. Six days after his arrival, Jones was involved in a car accident and sustained a severely broken leg that required surgery and months of hospital rehabilitation. In the summer of 1970, Jones was discharged from the U.S. military and enrolled that fall as a student at North Carolina A&T State University. However, as a result of a military record error, he was denied G.I. education bill funding and was forced to discontinue his studies. Upon leaving N.C. A&T State University, Jones worked as a store clerk and later a bus driver for the Experiment for Self-Reliance, a social aid program in Winston-Salem.