ONE OF MY childhood heroes was Farrell High basketball standout Don Jones.
I never saw him play, and if I did I was too young to remember him. He graduated in 1957, when I was 5 years old, closing out a superb high school career as a first-team All-State selection and amassing more than 1,000 career points for Coach Ed McCluskey’s Steelers, leading them to the 1956 PIAA State Championship as a junior.
I have watched him in game films, notably one of Farrell playing Philadelphia Overbrook, led by Public League phenom Wilt Chamberlain. Jones went head to head with the Philadelphia giant in December 1955 at Farrell High. The Steelers handed Overbrook its only loss in Chamberlain’s senior season.
While growing up in a basketball-frenzied family, Jones was one of the legends at the center of Farrell basketball conversation.
We have become friends throughout the years. We both share a passion about our days as kids in Farrell. Don moved to Farrell as a ninth-grader from Indiana, Pa., where his family, like most others in the town, earned its living working in the coal mines.
Don, who will celebrate his 75th birthday on Saturday in Orlando, Fla., played collegiately at Niagara University and excelled in its ROTC program. Upon graduation, he entered the Army, eventually becoming part of the prestigious Special Forces as a Green Beret, and retired as a colonel, highly decorated for bravery and heroism displayed in multiple tours of duty in Vietnam.
Earlier this year, I got a call from the colonel, asking if I would be willing to attend his 75th birthday celebration and join the program as one of the speakers.
I gladly accepted, honored to be part of any celebration in the life of Don Jones. Throughout the years, I came to appreciate the real substance of the colonel, which amounted to far more than excelling at basketball.
He’s one of America’s heroes, who was responsible for the saving the lives of many men during his tours of duty in Vietnam.
Several years ago, he stopped by The Herald for a visit, which he faithfully does when he’s in town, and we talked about a book manuscript that he had written and the difficulties in finding a publisher.
I told him that I would gladly edit the manuscript. We ended up working with Joe Zentis of Hermitage and his publishing company, Green Street Press.
In a short while, Don’s compelling autobiography, “The Path Set for Me” became a reality and another of the colonel’s dreams was achieved.
One of the attendees at the celebration will be Melvin Morris, who recently was presented a Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama. Morris, one of the military’s first Green Berets, was one of 24 veterans to receive the honor after a review showed that they had been ignored because of race or religion. Only three are still alive, and 10 never made it home.
Morris, wanting to leave nothing behind for the enemy, administered last rites to a fallen commander amid torrents of gunfire. He helped to evacuate his fellow soldiers, destroyed four enemy bunkers with grenades, and was shot in arm, hand and chest while carrying the commander’s body out of harm’s way. He received the Purple Heart for his wounds and the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery and heroism that day.
It will be an honor of a lifetime to be in their presence, as well as Don’s wife, Lil, and their three adult children.
Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald. His email is email@example.com