SPRINGFIELD, MO, USA U.S. Army PFC, H TROOP, 2D BATTALION, 3D ARMOR, FORT CARSON, CO 80913 AL HABBANIYAH, IRAQ 05/01/2003
The first letter is stained by the muddy river in Iraq where Jesse Givens died, smearing his handwriting, ripping apart his last words.
“I don’t know if you will ever understand the light you brought into my life,” reads one of the surviving sentences. “I want you to know I have every moment we ever spent together in my heart.”
The second letter was found in his wallet – wet and wrinkled, but fully intact – pressed against a tiny flower he brought from Colorado. It begins with the end.
“My angel, my wife, my love, my friend. If you’re reading this, I won’t be coming home . . .”
The final letter arrived a month after the funerals, memorial services and gun salutes. It came in the mail, delivered to Melissa Givens in the maternity ward, where she had just given birth to the son Jesse Givens would never hold. Inside was her husband’s final draft:
My family – I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if you are reading this . . . I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. . . . The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. You will never know how complete you have made me. Each and every one of you. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never even dreamed existed . . .
The 34-year-old soldier with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Carson had been in Iraq for a less than a month when he mailed the letter, unable to shake a sense of dread – and a need to say goodbye. On May 1, as he helped to snuff fires set by insurgents, his tank crashed through a berm and fell into a canal off the Euphrates River. The rest of the crew escaped through a hatch, but Givens was trapped inside. Of all the dangers they were warned about, of all the terrible scenarios that went through the minds of his family, it was a scene nobody imagined: Private First Class Jesse A. Givens drowned in the desert.
In his journal, he wrote the following thoughtful passage:
I am not going to pretend that I understand why we are thinking about going to war with Iraq. I know the reasons you have given – some seem more credible than others. No matter what the reasons, I will go and fight with all my heart. Not to win a war, but to come home to my wife and my children. I took an oath to protect my country. Not for the sake of saving the world, but for the hopes that my family wouldn’t have to live in a world filled with hate, fear and sadness – a world which America was exposed to on Sept. 11, 2001. If we are involved in combat and I fall, who will raise my children? Who will be there for my wife? I sacrifice not only my life, but a husband and a father’s life also. Who will see that my wife can support my children through all of their years? Who will provide my family with their -basic needs? I didn’t ask for your pity or money, I just ask that we do this for the right reasons. I ask that when you send soldiers into battle, that they are not just numbers. I ask that you see our roles as fathers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands – as well as seen as the proud Americans who want to serve our country. When all is said and done, will we, the United States military, shed blood, or pass at the hands of our enemies for a just cause? Will you remember those who we leave behind, and honor them as well as our fallen brothers and sisters?
“I want to save everything. I want the boys to see how good he was. At everything he did,” Melissa said. “Whatever I can hold onto.”