Word Count: 679
Read Time: 3 minutes
By: Theresa Jones, Gold Star Wife of Lieutenant Commander Landon Jones, USN
The Army-Navy football game is so much more than a game. This year, I took my sons for the first time. Like any mother, I wanted them to experience the pageantry, the camaraderie, and hard-nosed football of two teams comprised of athletes who will not play together in the NFL but rather serve together on the battlefield. But for us, the biggest takeaway I hoped my sons would have, was to experience a piece of their father who was killed in action while serving in the Navy on deployed operation in 2013.
Growing up near Annapolis, I was used to seeing Naval Academy midshipmen in their uniforms wandering around looking for a little fun and respite from their regimented “college” lifestyle. The uniform didn’t impress me the way it did for the general public who didn’t see it on a regular basis. But on a girl’s night out in Annapolis during my senior year of college, I met a cute midshipman who was unlike any other. It wasn’t long until Midshipman Landon Jones and I became inseparable (though the Naval Academy certainly put some distance between us). Despite busy schedules and life changes, such as a move to flight school training in Florida, Landon and I persevered and married in 2003.
In 2013, Landon’s helicopter crashed in the Red Sea just a few months after our second son, Hunter, was born and a few weeks before he was supposed to come home from deployment. Landon never will have the chance to meet Hunter, and he won’t see the remarkable young man that our oldest son, Anthony, who was only 6 years old at the time, has become.
Recently Hunter was curled up in my lap and told me: “I don’t even know what it’s like to have a dad.” Sure, he knows the face in the pictures is “dad,” but I’m not sure he truly understands the meaning of the word. Anthony remembers many things about his dad, but he wants to know more. He absorbs any story he hears. They want to know more. They need to know more.
For Hunter and Anthony, being part of the Army-Navy game day was one small piece I could return to them of their dad. It’s one step in replacing that beautiful picture that was shattered the day their dad was taken from them in service to our country.
The game was my chance to show them a sliver of insight into who their dad was. The Landon I knew was strong and courageous. He was mission-driven and put everything he had into whatever he was doing. He was a loyal friend and a great teammate. He loved his country and he loved his family. He was my best friend and a wonderful father, despite his limited time, and he will continue to guide our boys through the incredible legacy that he left to our family.
Hunter, Anthony, and I had such a memorable day. We experienced that camaraderie and excitement unique to the Army-Navy game with our Travis Manion Foundation (TMF) family. TMF is one of the groups that has provided invaluable support to my family since we lost Landon. Through TMF, my boys and I have the opportunity to serve with other veterans and military families to honor the legacy of Landon and all of the fallen heroes that dedicated themselves to a higher cause and paid the ultimate sacrifice. But on Saturday, December 14th, the mood was a little lighter. At the TMF pre-game tailgate party, Anthony and Hunter laughed and experienced true joy surrounded by men and women just like their dad. And through the laughs, I believe they saw his proud smile as he joined us to cheer on the Navy Blue and Gold, who in fitting fashion, took home the victory. I for one am grateful for the opportunity to give this gift to my boys, and to know that Landon was smiling down on us that day, just as Anthony, Hunter, and I had huge smiles on our faces and pride in our hearts.