- Last Updated on 11:35 AM 04/23/12
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
Pfc. Richard Kelvin “Richie” Jones, U.S. Army, was killed in action in Afghanistan on August 1. “He was my pride and joy,” said Franceen Jones, looking back on the life of her son. “Even as a kid, every day was an adventure to Richie.”
Thoughts of her son’s childhood antics brought a smile to her face as she explained, “he was a bundle of energy, always on the go, always into something.
Those thoughts melted into the reality of the sunny, steamy afternoon of August 10 as military helicopters droned overhead, rifles sharply cracked in a traditional 21-gun salute and the last notes of taps drifted over the hot summer air. The folded flag presented to her by Major General David Allyn lay gently on her lap as she bade farewell to her only son.
“He was a bundle of energy, always on the go, always into something,” she said. “Richie was a typical young man, he loved to be outdoors, and he loved to be in the woods. He liked playing Army as a little boy.”
Jones said her son loved dogs, cats and all animals. “He loved
to fish,” she said. “He went
fishing for the first time at age three when his grandma took him. He caught his first fish, a little bream, and she told him to take the hook out of his mouth. Richie told the fish to say ‘aahh,’” she added, smiling.
“There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about Richie, he was just a typical little boy, no shirt in the summertime, just shorts and no shoes,” Jones said. “He lived in the moment, and he carried that up all the way to adulthood.”
Richie’s parents separated and later divorced when he was 12-years-old. “Richie wasn’t a bad kid, he was mischievous,” Jones explained. “You had to kind of keep him on that straight road. Of course, he veered off every now and then, but he always was kind-hearted, very tenderhearted.
“If you could ever have seen him with his 85-year-old great-grandmother, or any older adult, you could see that kindness and gentleness in him,” Jones said. “He respected his elders. It was ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’ and ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ He always treated his elders with respect.”
When Richie turned 14, he and his mother and two younger sisters moved to Virginia to the Cluster Springs community of Halifax County. “He couldn’t adjust to living in Virginia,” Jones said. “I don’t know why. I guess it was because he was 14, and he had already established all his friends, and he was going into high school, and all that. He just couldn’t adapt to it the way the girls did.”
Richie decided he wanted to live with his grandmother, Peggy Bowling, in Person County. “So I allowed him to do that,” Jones said. “Even though he lived with my mama, we had a really close relationship. He would come to stay with me on the weekends, and when he got his license he would come see me after school when he wasn’t wrestling.”
Richie was on the Person Senior High wrestling team, beginning with his freshman year and continuing all four years of high school. Jones said Richie wanted to go into the military when he finished high school, but Jones said she and her mother talked him into continuing his education. Richie went to Nashville Auto-Diesel College and became a diesel mechanic.
Upon graduation, he worked for a time with Warner Enterprises at Dollar General in South Boston and then at Boyette Pontiac in Roxboro. “One day he came to me and said, ‘mama, I want to join the Army,’” Jones said. “And I said, ‘well, I tell you what, Richie, if that’s what you want, I’ll support you. I’ve supported you in all other decisions, I’ll support you in this one. If you have something you want to do, then I’m behind you 100 percent.’”
Richard K. Jones joined the Army in September 2008, graduated from boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia in January 2009 and was flown to Fort Carson, Colorado immediately following graduation, where he was assigned to an infantry unit.
Jones said even with his diesel mechanic training, Richie chose the infantry. “He told me he didn’t want motor pool, he wanted infantry,” she said. “And that’s what they gave him. He was an E-3, which is a private-first class, because he had the college behind him.”
“When Richie was in college he called me every day. He’d call me every chance he got from boot camp, and when he got over in Afghanistan he wasn’t supposed to call home but once a week, but he would sneak and call me twice a week,” Jones said. “So I always got two phone calls a week, and he always called me before he went out on a mission, always. He’d call and say, ‘mama, I’m going out on a mission tomorrow. I just wanted to call and tell you that I’ll call you as soon as I’m back.’ And he’d always call me when he was back and let me know he was safe,” she added.
“I actually got a call from him on July 29, which was his sister’s (youngest sister Kaitlyn) birthday. He called to wish her a happy birthday and then he said, ‘let me speak to mama,’” Jones said.
“I talked to him, and he told me, ‘mama, I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you too,’ and he said, ‘I’ll call you when I get back,’ and I said ‘okay, you be careful.’ He knew what I was trying to tell him, and that’s the last time I talked to him,” she said. “I was the last family member who talked with him.”
Looking back at her son’s earlier years, Jones said Richie and his sisters, Tanna and Katie, had the typical brother-sister relationship. “With Richie, my girls either survived or they didn’t,” she said.
“He made them tough,” she continued. “They got along as siblings, but they fought, they argued, they wrestled and beat up on each other. He was tough on them, he didn’t baby them, and as they got older they became really close, all of us were close.”
Jones said Richie was very protective of his sisters. “When Tanna started dating, the boys that she chose had to meet his approval,” Jones said. “And if they didn’t, he would let them know it.”
Kaitlyn, who has just turned 15, just started dating, and Jones said Richie, who was due to come home August 12 for a visit, told Kaitlyn, “when I come home I’m going to meet this boy, and if I don’t like him, then you’re not allowed to date him.”
“All the boys had to pass Richie’s approval, and if they didn’t, it was too bad,” Jones said.
The last time Jones saw her son was in March. “I never got to go to Fort Carson,” she said. “My mom and Tanna went to visit him in May before he was deployed, but things worked out so I just couldn’t go. And I really regret not going, but I can’t change that,” she added.
“Richie said once to his youth pastor, ‘one day I’m going to be famous,’ and I don’t know how that statement came about, but he told what Richie said at the funeral,” Jones said. “I just never would have thought Richie would have died a hero. I always prayed to God when he went to Afghanistan. I said, ‘Lord, if you’re going to take my son, let it be in an honorable way.’”
Jones said Richie never questioned America’s presence in the Middle East. “He would tell me, ‘mama, we’re there for a reason, these people need help, and I want to be a part of that. I want to help; those people are not treated right, they’re not treated fair. I live in a country where we have rights, and we have choices; these people don’t have a choice, and it’s not fair to them,’” she said.
Jones said she had received a letter from Richie’s platoon sergeant, who told her Richie was one of the best soldiers he had the honor of serving with. “And he was not telling me that to make me feel better, he was telling me that because it was true,” she said. “He was telling me that because Richie gave his all. When they went out on a mission, Richie was there for everybody, he protected them, he was an inspiration for the other soldiers.”
Jones related more from the sergeant’s letter of one mission where Richie was carrying a large machine gun, and he fell under the weight of it. “They were helping another platoon that had gotten in trouble, and when Richie fell, he had dislocated his shoulder, but he never said a word, but kept fighting,” she said. “When the fighting was all over with, he told them he had hurt his shoulder, that it was dislocated. But he never gave up, never stopped fighting, he just kept going, even though he was in pain.”
Pfc. Richard Jones was one of three Americans killed Saturday, August 1, when insurgents attacked their patrol in Mushan Village, Afghanistan, according to U.S. Defense Department reports.
Richie’s sergeant told his mother he was killed instantly when an IED (improvised explosive device), or homemade bomb, detonated near him.
Jones said she has learned that Richie and the two soldiers who also were killed that day were friends. “Pvt. Patrick S. Fitzgibbon was from Knoxville, Tennessee, and he was 19-years-old,” she said. I haven’t contacted his family, but I will,” she added.
“The other was Cpl. Jonathan M. Walls, he was 27,” she said. “I actually have spoken to his wife, she lives in Colorado. He left behind two small children, and she’s expecting another, so my heart really goes out to her because I know she’s really grieving.”
Jones said she and Richie would talk, and he would tell her everything. “I was really worried about him being over in Afghanistan,” she said. “But he would always tell me, ‘don’t worry mama, this is what I’m supposed to do, this is what I want to do and whatever God has planned for me, then that’s what will happen. If I come home, either way I come home…if that’s what God wants, then I accept it.’”
Richie was buried with full military rites Monday, August 10, in the cemetery of Providence Baptist Church, where he was a member, in his hometown of Roxboro. Attendance was estimated at over 1,000. “It was just amazing,” Jones said. “Everybody that I work with at the hospital…I just want to say I work with a wonderful group of people, that E.R., and X-Ray, the lab and just the hospital itself have been just so wonderful to me,” she added.
Jones also said she has received many telephone calls from friends offering their support, and she said she could not get over how wonderful everyone from her home in Person County have been during this difficult time.
Jones has gone back to work at Halifax Regional Hospital. “Richie wouldn’t want me sitting around moping,” she said. “Because he wasn’t a moper, he was a go-getter.
“If I had to, I couldn’t have picked a better son; God gave me a beautiful son, really all my children,” Jones said.
“I just look at it right now, he’s a soldier for God now,” she concluded. “He’s up there in Heaven, and I know in my heart that’s where he is, I know he is.”