ORWIGSBURG, Pa. — A local hero returned home one last time Wednesday before his interment in West Point Cemetery next week.
The hearse carrying the body of Capt. Jason B. Jones stopped for a moment of silence in his hometown of Orwigsburg while on its way from Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware, to Lord-Bixler Funeral Home Inc., Pottsville, where a private ceremony was held for the family. The body will be cremated and interment will be Tuesday at West Point Cemetery at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
"Words can't express the extent of our appreciation for all of the support we see from this local community in particular and from afar," his father, Attorney Jay Jones, said. "It has just been unimaginable that people care us and offered so much support. We thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts and we will never forget it."
Capt. Jones, 29, formerly of Orwigsburg, was killed June 2 in a small-arms firefight near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He was the commander of a 12-man Special Forces A-Team with the Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. A memorial service was held Saturday afternoon at First United Methodist Church, Pottsville.
The hearse carrying his body left Dover about 8 a.m. Wednesday and arrived in downtown Orwigsburg shortly after noon where it was greeted by a crowd of more than 1,500 people. They were silent but waved flags and put their hands over their hearts as the Patriot Guard Riders of Pennsylvania escorted the hearse down Market Street.
The procession stopped for a moment underneath a giant flag hanging from the extended ladders of two fire trucks. The silence was only broken when the crowd started to applaud the Jones family as they made their way back down Market Street.
The procession then continued north on Route 61 and to Mahantongo Street in Pottsville.
"He was my son's best friend," Wendy Campbell, Deer Lake, said while waiting in Orwigsburg square Wednesday. "It's wonderful to see all the support. I just wish he could see how the town is honoring him."
Her son, Alex, went to school with Jason and played basketball with him.
"He was just a good guy," she said. "He was always at our house."
"He was part of our family," her daughter, Andrea Scarola, Kempton, said.
"And he was a wonderful friend to my son," Campbell said.
Jones graduated from Blue Mountain High School in 2003. He earned a degree in nuclear engineering from the U.S. Military Academy in 2007 and then commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his deployment in Iraq from 2008 to 2009 and received various other military degrees and honors. He joined the Green Berets in May 2013 and was deployed to Afghanistan in April 2014.
"He just had so many honors and accomplishments," Scarola said. "We are so honored to have known him."
Campbell said she last saw Jones when he came to her house for Thanksgiving and Christmas this past year.
"He touched so many lives," Campbell said. "He is always going to be in our hearts."
In addition to his parents, Jay, Pottsville, and Suzy Jones, Orwigsburg, Capt. Jones is survived by a sister, Dr. Lizzy Jones, and his wife, Dr. Amy Weniger, whom he married on June 15, 2013.
"Jason was just a great kid," Robin Zimmerman, Orwigsburg, said. "He was a nice, polite young man."
Zimmerman said Jason used to help her husband with yard work. He was also a classmate of her daughter.
"I have a great memory of him coming over when he came home from West Point," Zimmerman said. "He knocked on our door just to see how we were doing."
She said Jones knew so many people and she was not surprised by how many people came out Wednesday to pay tribute.
"It's a very patriotic town," she said. "I'm not surprised at all. It's history."
Borough residents started placing flowers, photos and flags in the square as soon as they learned of Jones's death. Borough manager Mike Lonergan said people were lining up along the procession route since 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. He also expected nothing less from the borough.
"I think the town did beautifully," he said. "These folks respond well in times of crisis. He was very well-known and I think the community responds to that."
Evan McDonough, 7, of Orwigsburg, held up a sign he made as the hearse drove down the street. The sign read, "You are my hero Captain Jason Jones."
Evan's father, Frank, coached Jason's junior high basketball team and the two remained friends.
"He was just a good person and was as loyal as they come to his teammates, family and friends," he said.
McDonough said his son made the sign Wednesday morning with his sister.
"He asked what the big flag was for, and I said they bring it out for special people," McDonough said. "Jason was special."
The family request contributions in Jason's honor be sent to Wounded Warrior Project or the Animal Protection Society of Durham, 2117 E. Club Blvd., No. 101, Durham, NC 27704.