Army veteran Jeffrey Jones felt that it was his destiny to fight for Ukraine against the Russian invaders, his father Howard F. Jones Jr. said.
Even though Jeffrey Jones suffered a concussion in 2022 while working as a medic in Ukraine, he vowed to go back and make a difference, his father told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
Jones signed a contract with Ukraine’s military in June, and he became protective of the other foreign fighters in his unit, especially a young man from Brazil who likely did not have any combat experience, his father said.
“Jeff frequently had told myself and other people that he would take a hit for his soldiers,” his father said. “He was willing to sacrifice himself. He said many times that he would prefer that in certain situations that he’d be the person who was killed, rather than some of the other people.”
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On July 31, a Russian mortar round killed Jones and the young Brazilian foreign fighter that he tried so hard to protect, according to Jones’ father.
Howard F. Jones Jr. said he had received a message from his son shortly before he was killed saying that his unit was headed out to the front. Within hours, he heard from one of his son’s friends that Jeffrey Jones had been reported killed.
“It happened so fast,” the elder Jones said. “I actually was hopeful it was fake news.”
But the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv called him that day to tell him it was looking into the report that Jeffrey Jones had been killed. The embassy officially confirmed his son’s death on Aug. 4.
He later learned that his son had been killed while trying to take a trench near Bakhmut that Russian troops had recently recaptured.
His son’s passion for defending Ukrainians, especially children, stemmed from his own rough childhood, Howard F. Jones Jr. said.
Jeffrey Jones’ biological father abandoned him and his biological mother when he was about six months old, Howard F. Jones Jr. said. Jeffrey’ biological mother was later institutionalized for psychiatric issues, sending Jeffrey Jones into foster care.
But Jeffrey’s biological mother knew Howard’s wife, who was related to Jeffrey’s biological father.
“Jeff’s mother had asked my wife, if she had to go be institutionalized, whether or not she would take in Jeff,” Howard F. Jones Jr. said. “My wife said yes and made a promise.”
Jeffrey was ultimately placed with the Jones family, which adopted him when he was 10.
Jones enlisted in the Army in 1993 and served with the 101st Airborne Division before receiving an honorable discharge the following year as an E-2 private, according to a copy of his DD-214 form, which Howard F. Jones Jr. provided to Task & Purpose.
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, his father said, Jones went to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees. But he didn’t feel that he was doing enough there, so he crossed into Ukraine and served on a medical team with an independent quasi-military group.
His group also helped train new recruits in the Ukrainian military, but a Russian missile strike later killed 80 of the Ukrainians.
“He had to actually deal with the dead bodies of people that they were training,” Howard F. Jones Jr. said. “They were developing some level of friendship.”
In a subsequent incident, Jones suffered a concussion when a Russian artillery strike caused a concrete wall to fall on him, his father said. A doctor told him that he would have been killed if he had not been wearing his helmet.
After spending five days in a Ukrainian hospital, Jones decided to come home. But as soon as he returned to Georgia in July 2022, he immediately said he wanted to go back to the front lines in Ukraine.
Jones arrived in Ukraine for a second time in April and initially worked with a humanitarian group, his father said.
“But he didn’t feel fulfilled,” Howard F. Jones Jr. said. “He didn’t believe that he was doing enough. He believed his destiny was to go back and fight in the Ukrainian army as a foreign fighter.”
At least 17 Americans have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country last year. Some of the other U.S. military veterans who died in Ukraine include former Marine Private 1st Class Lance Lawrence and former Army Capt. Andrew Webber.
Retired Army Maj. James Creamer got to know Jones on Facebook and the two became friends.
“I was 21 years his senior, but we hit it off like we were high school buddies,” Creamer told Task & Purpose.
Jones spent several days at Creamer’s home in Georgia before returning to Ukraine and the two often spoke by phone, Creamer said.
Creamer said that Jones told him that his most disturbing experiences in Ukraine during his first several months there was retrieving the bodies of women, children, and elderly people who had been killed by indiscriminate Russian artillery and missile strikes.
“He was really disturbed that these innocent people were being killed,” Creamer said. “So, in our conversations, he’d always say: ‘I’m going to go back, and I’m going to go back as a fighter. I’m going to get into the legion [Ukraine’s international legion], and I want to help push these Russians out of here.’ So, for him, it was a moral calling.”
In February, Jones told Creamer that he was preparing to return to Ukraine. Creamer said he asked Jones if he was sure he wanted to go back, and he replied, “I’m positive.”
“He said, ‘I’m not afraid to die,’” Creamer recalled. “He said: ‘This is the right thing to do. I’m going to do it. I don’t care what anyone says. This is where I’m going.’ And that’s where he went.”
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