LAURINBURG – A Laurinburg man died in a house fire on Tuesday.
His family said it was a tragic end to a troubled life for Richard Jones, a Vietnam veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Authorities say fire officials got a call at 9:30 p.m. to the home at 1021 Gill that the 69-year-old shared with his brothers Don Jones and Tony Jones. He is also the brother of former Scotland County Sheriff Shep Jones.
“I was coming back and all these emergency vehicles were flying past me, and I said ‘Oh something’s going on north of town,” said Don Jones, a retired Air Force colonel. “I turned the corner right here and saw all the firemen and policemen, and I made an assumption that it was my neighbor’s house.”
The home was destroyed in the blaze and the family lost all of it belongings.
“We got the call for a structure fire with a possible entrapment,” Laurinburg Fire Chief Randy Gibson said. “We began to extinguish the fire and searched and found one male, brought him out of the fire and turned him over to EMS for patient care.”
Jones was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
The fire department has turned the investigation over to the Laurinburg Police Department who has called in the State Bureau of Investigation’s Arson Investigation Unit.
It is standard procedure to call in the Arson Investigation Unit when an individual dies in a fire, according to Gibson.
I’m still in disbelief,” said Don Jones, who was attending a church revival at the time of the fire. Tony Jones was at work.
Tuesday was not the first time that the family has had to plan a funeral for Richard Jones. In 1970, they were told by the military that he had died during a mission. Richard Jones joined the Marines in 1967 and was sent to Vietnam.
“Rich was on a seek-and-destroy mission in a squad of 12 when the Viet-Cong ambushed them. Only two survived,” Don Jones said. “On the battlefield, he was misdiagnosed as a casualty and declared dead.”
Jones was placed in a body bag with the rest of his squad and taken to a makeshift morgue.
Jones’ mother Lessie was informed by the Ft. Bragg Casualty Team that her son and had been killed in action.
The family began to notify relatives and make plans for Richard Jones’ funeral, only to be informed by the Red Cross later that evening that he had survived.
“They said there’s been a terrible mistake …your son was wounded, but not fatally,” Don Jones recalls.
In Vietnam, Jones woke up in the body bag and unzipped it to find himself surrounded by dead soldiers.
“He looked around and saw all the dead bodies, and he started crying out, ‘I’m not dead. I’m not dead!” Don Jones said. “That did more damage to him mentally that the shrapnel and the wounds he got.”
Jones was transferred to Japan for treatment and later sent to a stateside military hospital to receive further care.
Jones’ tour was shortened and he was allowed to finish the last eight months of active duty as a guard at a US Embassy in Bermuda.
When Jones was discharged from the Marines, he joined Don Jones at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro in an attempt to further his education.
“I got him up there, and he did not fit in; he did not blend in well,” Jones said. “He was still having shellshock and the students didn’t know his background. They didn’t understand it.”
In 1971, Jones left Greensboro to live with an uncle in San Diego and stayed there until the early 1990s. He attempted to earn a divinity degree at Linda Vista because he wanted to be a preacher, but still battled PTSD and exhausted his GI Bill college benefits before achieving his goal, according to his brother.
Jones became homeless.
“I was stationed in Colorado getting ready to retire from the Air Force, and something hit me and I began to think, are you not your brother’s keeper,” Don Jones said.
Col. Jones made arrangements to go to San Diego and track down his brother.
“They said if you go to downtown San Diego at the park, you’ll find your bother at the park feeding the pigeons, and at the time I thought it would be like a needle in a haystack, to find Richard in a big place like San Diego,” Jones said. “I went to the park. I looked over there and there he was on a bench feeding the pigeons. I said “Rich pack your bags; you’re going back to Colorado with me.”
Jones took the damaged war hero home with him and made arrangements with the Colorado Veteran’s Administration to get him help.
The two moved back to Laurinburg in 2001. Richard Jones continued to be deeply affected by the trauma he suffered in Vietnam.
“He was reclusive and stayed to himself. He was friendly when you invited him to something, but he didn’t talk much,” Don Jones said. “He would not harm a soul and advocated for peace. He would watch the news and see these demonstrations and fighting and he just couldn’t understand it.”
Richard Jones is the son of the late David and Lessie Mae Jones. He is survived by five brothers Don, Billy, Dan, Tony and Sheppard “Shep,” a sister Mary and a half-brother Fred Quick.
McPhatter Funeral Home is handling services for the family.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169