By Rick Pfeiffer email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — Hero.
It was a word spoken over and over and over in the filled to over-flowing sanctuary of Riverside Presbyterian Church on Tuesday morning.
With a Marine Corps honor guard looking on and a long blue line of volunteer firefighters standing by, family and friends used the word repeatedly as they said their final good-byes to Richard “Ricky” Jones.
The Falls native, and son of city police Lt. Dan Jones, was laid to rest with full military honors after his tragic death on a California highway. Jones, a 20-year-old Marine military police officer, died as he ran to try to aid the victim of a car crash.
“He was a true friend, a great Marine and a better human being,” said Marine Cpl. Matthew Petrovich, who was Jones’ close friend and a part of the honor guard.
“It is my privilege to have been able to bring Lance Cpl. Jones home,” Petrovich said in a voice choked with emotion. “He sacrificed himself to protect others, even someone he didn’t know. He tried to save (the crash victim) because he believed everyone is special.”
Jones, who was stationed at the Marine Corps Depot in San Diego, was on his way back to his base with a fellow Marine, when the pickup truck they were driving was involved in a multi-vehicle chain-reaction collision on Interstate 8 in nearby Mission Valley.
A volunteer firefighter with the Frontier Volunteer Fire Co. in Wheatfield, Jones and his fellow Marine got out of their truck to try to help the driver of a car that had been hit by two other vehicles. As they ran to aid that victim, the other marine said he had to jump over a guardrail to avoid yet another oncoming car.
The marine landed on a highway underpass about 20 feet below. Jones’ body was also found on that underpass.
It’s not clear whether he had also tried to jump the guardrail or was hit by the oncoming car.
That Jones would put himself in danger to help a stranger came as no surprise to his sister Valerie.
“My brother, really, wasn’t scared of anything,” she said. “He would do anything and not be scared. That’s why he joined the Marines.”
His sister said Jones also wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
“He wanted to be a police officer and help people, like my dad,” Valerie Jones said. “He died a hero. He will always be a hero and my guardian angel.”
The Rev. Laura Norris-Buisch, who officiated the funeral told those who were gathered that it was a time to remember Jones by recalling favorite stories about his life. While his sister said Jones could have been called “Dennis the Menace,” his cousin, Gerald Wierert, remembered the “laughter and surprises” that would always accompany time with Jones.
Recalling a surprise visit home to his parents in the summer of 2013, Wierert said Jones was waiting in the backyard of their home “and nothing was on fire and nothing was exploding.” Wierert said the circumstances of Jones’ death will define his life.
“His selfless acts define him,” Wierert said. “Volunteer firefighter, Marine, Richard lives in all of us. He lives in the men and women protecting out country. He lives in the police who protect us.”
Wierert concluded by quoting the lyrics of the Marine Corps hymn, which was played by a police bagpiper as his Jones’ body was taken from the church.
“If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes,’ Wierert said, “They will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.”
The funeral procession left the church and passed by the Frontier Fire Company hall. It passed underneath a giant American flag suspended from two ladder trucks.
The final farewell to a firefighter.
“The (Jones) family is very appreciative of the support of the community,” Frontier Fire Chief Bruce Mack said. “They want to share their heartfelt thanks in this difficult time.”