On May 1, 2003 husband, father, son and friend, US Army Pfc. Jesse Givens died in Iraq in the service of his country. He was 34 years old. Givens was parked in an M-1 main battle tank alongside the bank of the Euphrates River in Al Habbaniyah, Iraq. The riverbank gave way, resulting in the tank falling into the river. His comrades tried desperately and unsuccessfully to free him. Ironically, Pfc. Jesse A. Givens drowned in the desert. Givens was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colorado. He had shipped out just 3 weeks prior to his death, on April 6th. Two weeks prior to his death, he wrote a final letter, and mailed it to his wife Melissa, his five year-old son Dakota (nicknamed ‘Toad’) and his unborn child Carson (nicknamed ‘Bean’)
The final letter arrived a month after the funerals, memorial services and gun salutes. It came in the mail, and delivered to Melissa Givens in the maternity ward, where she had just given birth to the son Jesse Givens would never hold….
“He called me a week before [his death] and told me he had written the letter, but not to open it unless he died,” Melissa Givens said.
Out of this tragedy, Pfc. Givens last letter home has made a tremendous impact on thousands of strangers. Something he certainly didn’t intend, and never could have imagined.
Since 2003, the letter has been published in the New York Times, and featured in the HBO Documentary Film “The Last Letters Home“. In 2006, the mens vocal ensemble Cantus commissioned composer Lee Hoiby to write a song for them. Mr. Hoiby received permission from Melissa Givens to set the words of the letter to music. It was originally written for a men’s trio of voices (1 Tenor, 2 Baritones). Later, it was set into a full choral work.
Listening to Lee Hoiby’s setting of Jesse Givens’ letter, Erick Lichte [director of Cantus] says he’s especially touched by the closing lines: “Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.”
“The hopefulness and the love of life that’s expressed in his words is immeasurable, It’s almost too much to bear.”
- as reported by Minnesota Public Radio
As we prepare to lay 2009 to rest, this seems a fitting tribute of remembrance. I hope that as we each step boldly into 2010, we will include the resolve not to take our freedom for granted. May the death of Pfc. Givens and all of his fallen brothers and sisters of the armed forces not be in vain. May the living sacrifice of the surviving families, friends, and fellow enlisted servicemen & women be forever honored.
“…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…I’ll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life…There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A million lifetimes’ worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you… “
I pray that Givens’ faith, hope, and love of family will live on in each of us.
Video tribute created by Seth Adam Smith
To read the full text of Jesse Givens Final Letter Go To: fallenheroesmemorial.com
To Read An Indepth Interview – Go to thefinalrollcall.us