Fallen soldier remembered
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Mourners begin to file into First United Methodist Church in Pottsville, Saturday morning for visitation services in honor of Capt. Jason Jones, killed Monday in Afghanistan. Crowds swarmed Market Street, with traffic detail handled by Pottsville police, fire police and volunteers of Patriot Riders Guard. The turnout was so large that a scheduled 1 p.m. memorial service was delayed until after 2 p.m. For more photos from the service see our gallery at tnonline.com.
On Saturday, Joseph Jones walked slowly into First United Methodist Church on Market Street in Pottsville.
A handkerchief pressed tightly to his eyes, he sat down heavily on the first pew.
Jones opened his eyes, gazing blankly at the flowers arranged on either side of the large portrait of his beloved grandson, Capt. Jason Benjamin Jones.
On the left hung Jason Jones' U.S. Army dress uniform, bedecked with medals.
Jones, 29, a 2003 honors graduate of Blue Mountain High School and 2007 honors graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. New York, died June 2 of wounds he suffered in a small-arms fight in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
A Green Beret, he was commander of a 12-man Special Forces A-Team.
Comforted by family, his grandfather, stood for more than two hours during a memorial service, accepting condolences from hundreds of mourners. Standing beside him were Jones' parents, Suzy Jones of Orwigsburg and Jay Jones of Pottsville, his sister Dr. Lizzy Jones, and his widow, Dr. Amy Jones.
A large screen showed images of Jones as a little boy with bags and suspenders, with his bride on their wedding day, with their rescue beagle, Molly, with his proud parents, with friends, and in fatigues in the Middle East.
Outside the massive gray stone church, members of a rough-and-tumble biker group the Patriot Guard Riders stood in silent vigil, American flags at their sides.
Inside, mourners' tears were punctuated by chuckles as Jones' family, friends and colleagues shared their memories.
'What he wanted to do'
Suzy Jones shared the last email she received from her son.
"Mom, I got the package you sent me today. It was really great. The socks you sent are perfect, and I'm going to wear a pair of them on my next mission. They really are nice."
He wrote about giving chocolates she had sent to an Afghan commander's children, because they so rarely had treats.
Toward the end of the message, Jones wrote a sentence that made his mother's voice break as she read it aloud.
"We have a great team. When I go out on missions, I'm happy, because I'm getting to do what I wanted," he wrote.
Jay Jones spoke of his son's unshakable determination.
"He never backed away from a challenge, he savored them," he said.
Jay Jones recalled his son's response to being cut from his school's basketball team.
Jason was upset, but his tears quickly dried, and "that look of determination came over his face," he said. "That look said, this is not going to happen again."
Over the next year, Jones played game after game with his son, and played to win so that Jason would become stronger and better. Eventually, Jason learned enough to overtake his father.
"He beat me. Then he pounded me. Then he obliterated me," Jones recalled with a smile.
But never once did his son gloat.
That selfless aspect of his character was set in stone.
As an adult, Jones' parents discovered he had graduated sixth in his class of 2007 at the U.S. Military Academy, where he majored in nuclear engineering.
In 2009, he was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious service.
He never wore the medal, nor did he even mention it. His parents found out about the award only after their son's death.
"Jason was a humble gentleman, and he would be mortified by all this attention," Jones said.
Jason's sister remembered how her brother "took me under his wing and watched out for me."
Sometimes, that care took a "tough love" turn.
She recalled being a high school freshman, and asking him to walk her to her homeroom. Instead, he led her to the parking lot and left her there.
But he was serious about his genuine concern for others.
Lizzy Jones recalled a time when he gave a homeless man $5, despite her warning that he would probably spend it to get drunk.
"Whatever gets him through the night. I just don't like to see people suffer," she recalls him saying.
It was the attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, that drew her brother into his military career.
"He saw that there were bad things happening in the world, and he made up his mind to do something about it," she said. "He died protecting the ideals that preserve our greater good."
Her recollections of his lack of musical talent and inability to dance drew chuckles from the mourners.
Both of his parents and his sister spoke of their deep love and respect for Jones' widow, who met through Lizzy Jones while she and Amy were in medical school.
The couple would have celebrated their first anniversary on June 15.
Through tears, Amy Jones of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, spoke of their love for each other, and for their rescued beagle, Molly.
She recalled their plans to eventually move to Colorado, where he would open a fly fishing shop, and where they would have children and adopt another beagle or two.
"Words cannot describe how much I am going to miss this incredible man," she said.
Mentor, teacher, brother
Jones' colleague, SSgt. James R. Sorrells, who described Jones as "more mentor, teacher and brother than boss."
Jones was a "humble man, and a man of virtue," he said, fighting tears.
Retired Major Mike Orloff described Jones as "a leader of men, a mentor, and my dear friend."
High school classmate Alex Campbell remembered Jones as a "shy and sort of sweet guy, who always had a cheeky look on his face."
Campbell saw Jones grow up to become a man who brought out the best in everybody around him.
Capt. Pete Van Hooser recalled the grueling process of training and testing for the Special Forces.
"Jason made it look easy," he recalled.
Capt. Matt Hubbard saw Jones for the last time on May 30, three days before he was killed.
They sat on a roof, watching a thunderstorm brewing, smoked cigars and talked.
"My heart is broken. This is another hole in my soul," said Hubbard, who had already lost several friends to war.