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Keep the memory alive, keep the trooper alive

Pictured (Left-Right): Robby McPhail, Scott Alexander, Pat Jones, John Clark, Ken Cook, and Larry Humphries
Sgt. Francis (Rusty) Brockman III was killed in action on May 25, 1972. Here, troopers from the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment attend Brockman's dedication ceremony. Pictured (Left-Right): Robby McPhail, Scott Alexander, Pat Jones, John Clark, Ken Cook, and Larry Humphries. “Keep the memory alive and the trooper lives forever. One of the absolute best men I have ever known,” said Pat Jones.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day holds no significance for Patrick Jones. What he does care about is his band of brothers. “We never talk about what we did over there,” Jones said. “We talk about the fun things we did… the things we got away with when we shouldn’t have, but it sure was fun.”

He was raised in a military family, with the freedom and protection offered by base living. He first learned of Vietnam in 1959 when his father would run missions in and out of country while stationed in Hawaii.

Determined to serve and fresh out of high school, Jones swung open the door to the recruiter’s office in 1971 with the confidence only liquid courage could give.

“I’m Pat Jones, I want to be an Airborne Ranger, and I want to go to Vietnam,” said Jones, 19 years old and loaded with alcohol. “Don’t quit drinking and sign right here,” the recruiter told Jones. “Give me your driver’s license and I’ll fill out the rest of it.”

That Monday, he took a bus to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to start boot camp. After basic training, AIT, and leadership school, he waited on orders to go to jump school. But after his drill sergeant investigated it, turns out Jones’ paperwork didn’t include Airborne or Ranger schools. Jones had simply signed up for the good of the Army.

He was sent to Vietnam with Company E recon 1st of the 7th Cavalry until 1972.

“When I signed up to go to Vietnam, I knew how unpopular it was,” said Jones. His mother, who today is 94, told him at the time, “I’ve got the only son in the world that wants to be a radical, and he does it backwards.”

“Mom, I just want to see what it’s all about,” said Jones, who learned what it was “all about” only two days after arriving in country, when the compound got blown up. After that, he jumped on a C-130 heading to southern Vietnam. As he debarked the aircraft, he passed troops loading eight silver boxes onto the plane.

A brash 19-year-old Jones asked a man loading the plane what it was all about. The man replied, “Let’s put it this way: you’re taking their place.”

Jones says he enjoyed the comradery in Vietnam, but not necessarily the location.

“I could remember my father talk about jumping the fence… I grew up listening to it, I wanted to see it,” said Jones, whose father completed multiple tours, and his godfather, his father’s best friend of 15 years, was still in Vietnam when Jones arrived.

Jones was assigned to a recon unit, same as his godfather, who didn’t want Jones to join him because it was too dangerous. But for Jones, it was where he belonged.

For a long time after the war, he questioned how he survived when many of his brothers-in-arms never came home.

“I should have been walking where he was walking,” said Jones, referring to his friend, Rusty. Jones described Rusty as a super guy, who didn’t drink or smoke. He was in graduate school but had to quit to raise more money to finish his education. Two weeks after he quit school, he was drafted. “He ended up getting killed.”

“The guys I met and lived with in Vietnam were second to none,” said Jones. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, and them, me.”

After Vietnam, Jones joined a scout unit in Germany, and in 1979, finished his military career at Ft. Gordon as a Senior Drill Sergeant. He spent the next 33 years working for a railroad company in Augusta, Georgia. Jones retired in 2012, and he soon found himself seeking ways to fill his time besides traveling or yard work. Going back to a “real job” wasn’t the answer.

“I don’t need another job, (so) I’m going to go to the VA and do volunteer work,” Jones told his wife. “I know they’re always looking for volunteers.”

Jones volunteers as a Red Coat Ambassador, helping Veterans navigate the hallways at the VA Augusta Health Care System. So far, he’s accrued 1,245 hours.

To this day, Jones and the 7th Cavalry Troopers make it their mission to connect with the families of the brothers they left behind.

“‘Keep the memory alive, keep the trooper alive,’ is what we live by,” said Jones. The group created their own series of challenge coins to give out to families of Veterans who have perished. “To me, it still remains all about the band of brothers.”