CLEVELAND, Okla. — Saturday may have been St. Patrick’s Day in the rest of the world, but in Cleveland it was Ashley Jones Day.
It seemed like the whole town showed up to show their love for Spc. Jones, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after an improvised explosive device struck a convoy she was in while serving as a combat medic in Afghanistan.
Jones said she was touched by the parade that went down Broadway Street, which was decorated in red, white and blue and lined with flag-waving well-wishers, many wearing T-shirts that said “Welcome Home Ashley, Our Hero.”
“It really helps,” Jones said of the outpouring of support. “They’ve really helped me more than they know.”
Jones was assigned to Company C, 700 Brigade Support Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Charlie Med) as a combat medic located at Forward Operating Base Kalagush. She often traveled on convoys to provide medical support.
She was wounded in a Dec. 18 convoy and also sustained injuries to her back and pelvis. She was subsequently awarded a Purple Heart at a ceremony at the Craig Joint Theatre Hospital on Bagram Air Field attended by more than 30 of her friends and colleagues.
Joy Jackson, 23, and Brittany Webb, 20, served with Jones in Afghanistan and were also on hand at Saturday’s festivities in Cleveland.
Jackson, of Buffalo, Okla., said Jones has not let what happened to her bring her down emotionally. Webb, of Antlers, said Jones has remained the “life of the party.”
Jackson said the three have become like “long-lost sisters,” so much so that Jackson is planning on staying in San Antonio when Jones returns there to resume her physical rehabilitation. Webb said she plans on visiting as often as possible.
Jones, who turns 21 this weekend, said she will return to San Antonio later this month. The facility there includes “the latest and greatest” in technology, and her rehab will consist of two daily sessions that last a combined three hours.
In her downtime, she said she occasionally gets to go to San Antonio Spurs basketball games courtesy of those who have donated their tickets to veterans like her.
A 2009 Cleveland High School graduate and former standout for the school’s basketball and softball teams, Jones theorized that maybe the reason so many people showed up on Saturday was that they remember her from her playing days.
Then again, maybe something much deeper was going on here on Saturday.
Shellie Derry is only 14 and probably could have found other things to do on a cool and cloudy Saturday morning. However, as she sat on a curb holding an American flag, she said members of both sides of her family have served in the military and so she felt that attending the parade was the right place to be on Saturday.
Cleveland Mayor Ron Shipman, who read a proclamation honoring Jones to the crowd, said the parade was the product of a “grass-roots” effort in this community of about 3,200 people.
“I’m really pleased with the turnout,” Shipman said.
So was Jones’ father, Chris Jones.
“It’s amazing,” the 46-year-old Jones said. “I never expected anything like this. It just kind of took off.”
Jones said he moved to the Cleveland area from the state of Kansas in 2000 to take a new job. Now, he said, this has become his hometown.
“These people are great,” he said. “This is the best little town there is.”
Ashley’s mother, Jo De Jones, was also delighted by all the emotional support on display on Saturday.
“I’m very surprised and very thankful to the community,” she said.
Still, the 41-year-old Jones knows that her daughter has a “long road ahead of her.”
Ashley said she has about eight more months of physical rehabilitation in San Antonio looming. In the long-term, she said would like to attend Oklahoma State University and perhaps become a registered nurse.
No matter what her future holds, Jones — as well as her family and friends — will always remember a day when a town showed up on Ashley Jones Day to show her how much her service and sacrifice were appreciated and how much she meant to them.
“This makes my heart smile,” Webb said.