A Memphis man died in Ukraine after volunteering to fight against Russian invaders, leaving his family grief-stricken and attempting to retrieve his remains from a foreign country at war.
The mother of Joshua Alan Jones, Misty Gossett, acknowledged her son’s death on Facebook and spoke briefly about her grief, but did not respond to a request for an interview.
In a Monday post, she urged family and friends to not comment until Jones’ body is returned.
“Our main goal is to get his body home, saying the wrong thing could affect this for us, his family,” said Gossett, who lives in DeSoto County, Mississippi. “We all want to celebrate his life and share our stories, but sadly, this is not the time. Our boy is in an active war zone…I promise, I hate it has to be this way.”
The State Department confirmed that an American died in Ukraine, but declined to release the person’s identity. The Russian state news outlet TASS identified Jones and showed video and photos of what it said was Jones’ passport.
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“We offer our condolences to the families of all whose lives have been lost as a result of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine,” a State Department spokesperson told the Commercial Appeal. “We can confirm the recent death of a US citizen in Ukraine. We are in touch with the family and providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further to add.”
Jones, a 24-year-old veteran of the US Army, was killed in action August 23, the Norman Brigade, a group self-described as a “Western volunteer unit fighter for Ukraine,” said in a Facebook post.
The group did not disclose much detail regarding Jones’ death, but said he was involved in “taking a trench occupied by the RussoNazis,” a term the Normandy Brigade uses frequently on social media to describe Russian troops.
Russian state media said Jones was “eliminated” while fighting on behalf of Ukraine.
Jones initially joined the Norman Brigade, but by the time of his death moved to International Legion, a group of foreign fighters working for Ukraine and sanctioned by that country’s government.
Along with announcing his death on Facebook, the Norman Brigade’s commander commented about Jones as a fighter and individual.
“I had the Honor and pleasure to have Joshua, a young father, serving under my command from May until June 2022. Joshua Jones, a ‘Norman at heart,’ really embodied the core values a Norman displays on the battlefield: Ferocity, boundless energy, cunning, [and] a capacity for leadership,” the post read. “Above everything, Joshua was loved. Simple as that. He was the kind of guy you want to have in your unit. His playful attitude got us through gray skies and there is no way we can forget him.”
In a statement given to TASS, the Russian news outlet, the ombudsperson for the Donbass region Darya Morozova said Jones was killed by militia members of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russia-backed separatist region of Ukraine. Morozova also told TASS the separatist group would return Jones’ body to the United States.
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Jones served just under three years in the Army as an infantryman. He enlisted in August 2016, just a few months after graduating from Gateway Christian School, and was held the rank of specialist at the end of his service in June 2019, according to a US Army spokesperson.
According to his LinkedIn account, he served in the 25th Infantry Division from the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He also trained “over 25 soldiers in Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.”
A US Army spokesperson also confirmed that although Jones did not undergo any deployments, he was the recipient of six commendations throughout his service, including the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and the Overseas Service Ribbon.
US citizens fighting in foreign wars outside of American military service isn’t unusual. The Lincoln Battalion, a group of American volunteers, fought against the Nazi-backed forces of Gen. Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War in the years leading up to World War II.
The State Department discourages US citizens from joining such groups and traveling to Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict. But doing so is not illegal.
“US citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of US citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that US citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.