On the morning of Return Day, November 4, 2004, the "Vietnam Veterans of America" Chapter 546 will dedicate a plaque at 10 a.m. on the circle in Georgetown to honor the sacrifice of the 26 Sussex County soldiers who gave their lives serving our country in Vietnam. One of those soldiers was my brother, WO Frank W. Jones.
If you were fortunate enough to have known Frank, you will remember a quick-witted, handsome, down-to-earth young man who moved to Georgetown in 1958. The son of William “Cap” and Mary Jones, Frank immediately fit in, and for the next six years he lived a life reminiscent of Norman Rockwell paintings. Boy Scouts, paper routes, sports and time with friends filled his days, while cruising and dancing often filled his nights.
Cap, our father, had moved his family to Delaware to serve as the Active Duty Advisor to the Delaware Army National Guard. Some of you may remember both him and my mother. Dad sold cars at Conaway Motors for years and was Sheriff of Sussex County for ten more. Our mother, Mary, is best remembered for her pleasant disposition and helpful nature.
Georgetown turned out to be such a wonderful place for family and friends that when Cap was offered a promotion to Major he turned it down because it would have meant moving his family. By now, the Jones clan had grown Delaware roots, and as we settled into our true home, our vagabond military lifestyle came to an end.
My brother, Frank, graduated from Georgetown High School in 1964. Next to pretty girls and fast cars, his greatest passion was wrestling. Delaware Hall of Fame Coach, Herm Bastianelli, recalls a high-school freshman who was as committed to his team as he was to winning.
“Frank was an exceptional person a dedicated soldier, a dedicated wrestler. He came out for the first team in Georgetown’s history. As a ninth grader in 1960-1961, he exemplified the type of wrestler that would make Georgetown and then, after consolidation, Sussex Central, one of the toughest teams in Delaware year after year. That first year, Frank wrestled junior varsity, and the team won 6 and lost 3. For the next three years, he wrestled on three undefeated teams and helped the Golden Knights begin our famous streak of 56 consecutive wins spanning the 1961 to 1967 seasons.”
Frank won a conference title in 1964, but severely injured his neck during the State tournament his senior year. More fortunate than my good friend, Rodder Purnell, the damage to my brother’s spinal cord was temporary and his paralysis subsided.
While Frank is remembered for his skill on the mat, as well as his pre-Karaoke-day impressions of Gene Pitney and his winning smile, it is his courage that proved to be his most important legacy. After attending Indiana State for two years, Frank left college in 1966 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. The military was a natural fit for the son of a carrier military officer, and with two years of college under his belt, Frank was eligible for the Army’s helicopter training program.
Graduating from Fort Rucker with class 67-13, Frank was sent to the 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery Regiment in Pleiku, South Vietnam, where he served as the eye in the sky for the big 6/14th guns which supported the 173rd Airborne Brigade during the Battle for Hill 875 and the 4th Infantry Division during the Tet offensive. As with most pilots in Vietnam, he typically logged over one hundred hours per month and suffered a few bullet holes and broken aircraft before his final mission June 30, 1968.
When his engine failed, Frank was flying Company Commander William Whitehead, who was onboard to pay the troops and deliver mail. I am told that he almost made it to a clearing, but on the 4th of July, 1968, two officers arrived at our home to deliver the news of his death. For the first time in my life, I lowered our flag to half-mast.
Less than two weeks later, Frank was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, and Captain Whitehead was interned at West Point, where he had starred in football. Both men left behind many friends and family who still miss them today.
Frank had flown many additional missions and was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously. After his death, Coach Herm Bastianelli suggested a tribute to his courage, and the Frank Jones Memorial Award was created. First awarded to Jerry Parker in 1969, the tradition begun by Coach Bastianelli and continued by coach Phil Shultie has acknowledged the most courageous wrestler from Georgetown/Sussex Central for the past 35 years. Some have earned the award by wrestling in severe pain, some by overcoming great adversity, others by leading through example. All the winners share one common trait courage.
As in life, courage on the mat will always hold a place of honor. So too is the honor that we bestow upon WO Frank Jones and the other 25 soldiers who gave their lives in the defense of our nation. The lessons we learned in Vietnam and the sacrifices made by those who served have helped to shape our military doctrine over the ensuing years. Our training, equipment and sense of purpose were all influenced by the Vietnam War and helped our forces to win many battles that followed.
It is difficult to express the heartbreak of losing someone we love, and the families that gather on the circle November 4th will share that common bond. As we pay homage to our loved ones, we are also indebted to the members of the "Vietnam Veterans of America" Chapter 546 for their efforts to memorialize their fallen comrades. We are grateful for their show of support, and it helps all of us in the healing process to know our loved ones have not been forgotten.
Please join us at 10 AM for the dedication ceremony to pay tribute, not only to the soldiers from Sussex County who perished in Vietnam, but to all of the soldiers, past and present, whose service has kept this great nation free.
On November 3, the night before the dedication, we will also honor Frank’s abbreviated life by gathering from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Blue Water Grill in Millsboro. All are welcome, and we extend a special invitation to the recipients of the Frank Jones Memorial Award as well as those who knew and loved him. The price is $25 per person payable at the door.
Kenneth C. Jones
LTC (Ret) DEARNG