As we each look back on the events and experiences in our lives, there are a handful of memories we cherish the most. As our nation looks forward to celebrating Memorial Day, I would like to share one of my most treasured experiences.
Like all members of Congress, I have visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, and I have attended funerals of American military men and women who have lost their lives. It is a humbling experience to attend the funeral of a soldier who has given their life for this country, and equally humbling to talk to a soldier who has lost a leg.
One funeral in particular, a memorial ceremony in honor of Marine Sergeant Michael Bitz, is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. Michael Bitz was a 31-year-old amphibian assault vehicle driver who was killed in Iraq in March 2003 while trying to evacuate wounded troops. It was an outside service held in my district on the grounds of Camp Lejeune, facing the banks of the New River.
I watched as Marines folded the flag that draped Michael's coffin, and presented it to his wife, Janina Bitz, who was seated next to me. When Janina stood and began reading from the last letter her husband sent her, it was obviously an emotional moment for everyone in attendance. This brave young Marine left behind a wife, a two-year-old son and a pair of newborn twins he never saw.
During the service, Michael's two-year-old son, Joshua, dropped a toy and a Marine gunny sergeant in dress uniform stooped to pick it up. As the Marine looked down and handed Joshua his toy, and the little boy looked up at him, it hit me - this child would never know his father.
That day was an awakening for me, as I realized the depth of the loss for families who have lost a loved one in the military. I was overwhelmed with appreciation.
As I drove 72 miles home to Farmville that day, I thought about what I just witnessed and began thinking of what God intended me to take from the experience. I felt that if everyone could see what I had seen, they couldn't help but view our brave military men and women with the same appreciation.
Shortly after Michael Bitz's funeral, I decided there was something I could do to show the families of our fallen troops that the gift of their loved one will never be forgotten. With the help of my staff, we began lining the hallway near my Capitol Hill office with posters bearing the "Faces of the Fallen" as a tribute to the troops who have given their lives in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
Every day hundreds of visitors pass this display and many pause to look at the faces of the brave men and women who selflessly sacrificed their lives for our great nation and their fellow Americans. On more than one occasion, I have seen tears from visitors who are overcome with gratitude for the courage, bravery and dedication of these men and women who have died for their country.
To show my appreciation to these families in a more personal way, I have also felt called to write letters to the families of each U.S. soldier, sailor, and Marine killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In these letters, I share a quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a letter he sent to the family of a soldier killed in World War II: "He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die, that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives - in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men."
These words are as fitting for today's heroes as they were for the heroes of yesterday.
Memorial Day is a day to reflect upon those who have given their lives in the past, as well as those in the present. This Memorial Day, I hope Americans will take time to remember and pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who have died serving their country. It is only because of their courage and their sacrifice that America is free.
May we never forget to say "Thank you."
Sincerely,Walter B. Jones