New Bern Sun Journal Says, Friends Picture ‘Heavenly Celebration’ for North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones

Jones believed two men, whose names he worked for more than a decade to clear of wrongdoing in a 2000 Osprey crash, would meet him at the pearly gates of heaven.

Updated 10:22 p.m.

During his decades-long career serving the 3rd Congressional District of North Carolina, Congressman Walter Jones made time for military members and their families, including those left behind.

During the more than 10 years working to clear the name of Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow after they were blamed for an Osprey crash that killed the two men and 17 other Marines aboard, Brooks Gruber’s wife Connie Gruber and Jones became close.

She and her daughter, Brooke Gruber, were given time and attention from the congressman through the years, both through their fight for justice and during other memorable occasions, including the Sunday in 2016 when Jones buried a Challenge Coin at Brooks Gruber’s grave for his daughter to dig up later with her own children.

“My daughter and I are deeply saddened because selfishly, we would like to keep him here–for this world has lost a true man of God, an all-round good person, and fearless leader,” Connie wrote in a message to The Daily News in response to the news of Jones’ passing. “I am amazed at God’s glory in calling him home on his birthday and I can only imagine the heavenly celebration.”

Jones also stepped up to help and give a voice to others throughout his years in Congress. In 2015, Jones joined the N.C. Heroes Fund and Purple Hearts Homes, among others, in presenting Ginger Lay with a check totaling more than $9,000, enough to cover some repairs done to her home, The Daily News reported. She is the widow of Marine Cpl. Stephen Lay, who served two terms in Iraq before committing suicide due to the stress of PTSD.

“It’s too easy for the American people to forget those who have given too much during wartime. When they come home, many of them, as her husband did, have issues with PTSD and TBI,” Jones said during the presentation.

And while Jones was quick to aid veterans, he was equally as careful in his office decisions – especially when it came to the military.

In a 2015 Wilmington stop, Jones publically said his decision on whether to support a deal with Iran over nuclear ambitions would only be made after “careful review.”

But both his desire to step in for military families and his cautious choices often stemmed from the same thing: mistrust developed following the Bush administration’s reasoning for war with Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, that was later proved inaccurate, the StarNews reported. Jones previously said he regretted not fully reading the then-classified material, which could have swayed his thinking on the matter.

“I’m responsible for over four thousand kids dying,” Jones said in 2015.

Jones later took a stance that war not being declared by the U.S. Congress should be an impeachable offense. In a 2018 press conference Jones said if Congress doesn’t debate sending young men and women to die there is no need for Congress at all.

“I have signed well over 11,000 letters to families in this country since I bought the lie from Bush and Cheney to go to war in Iraq,” Jones said at the press conference.

Jones fought to get troops back on U.S. soil, citing everything from the lives lost to the reasons for war – and including one memorable moment involving goats.

At a 2017 rotary meeting Jones spoke about $6 million being spent by the Department of Defense on a flock of goats to promote goat farming and industry in Afghanistan, The Free Press reported. Jones noted no one knew where the goats were, or if they were still alive, and compared the $700,000 per goat cost there versus the $50 per goat in Lenoir County.

“You’ve got people living right here that need help from Hurricane Matthew but yet we can find all these billions of dollars that we can’t pay for to go to foreign countries,” he said at the meeting. “We are trying to change a part of the world that doesn’t want to be changed.”

The Craven County Republican Party did not immediately respond to request for comment, but posted on Facebook saying Jones had gone home to “be with Jesus” Sunday night.

“May he Rest in eternal Peace, and his family, friends, and coworker’s find comfort and solace in the knowledge that so many across our state and our nation’s capital are holding them up in prayer,” the organization wrote.

The Onslow County GOP, similarly, was not immediately available for comment, but shared several posts from officials on the news of Jones’ passing, and posted a statement about 6 p.m., saying “May he rest in peace. Our sincerest condolences to his family.”

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Updated 9:18 p.m.

John Nix, chairman for the Lenoir County GOP, said he first met Congressman Walter Jones in 2008 and in the years that followed, he got to know him on a personal level.

“He was a good friend – he was a friend to many – and a friend to me as well,” Nix said.

While Nix said he was aware of Jones’ condition, Sunday was actually Jones’ birthday and he had sent over some birthday wishes via text message before he learned of the congressman’s death.

Overall, Nix described Jones as accessible, and said it seemed he would visit Lenoir County each time he had the chance. In fact, Nix got some help from Jones when he ran for city council in 2013.

“He headlined one of my events and came and spoke for me,” Nix said. “I’ve been to his office in Washington, you know … but to help someone running for a small town city council position.”

Nix said Jones was known for voting true to his conscience. And while many people in the GOP had a hard time understanding the reason for some of Jones’ stances, Nix said it was all about vouching for things he believed in.

“I’m just going to miss him and I wish I could have said good bye,” Nix said.

Jones also stood up for Eastern North Carolina’s heritage, including protection for the wild horse herd on Shackleford Banks, which is part of Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Jones, along with his wife Joe Anne, were known to visit the island and Jones was against administration plans in the 1990s to reduce the size of the herd and fought to ensure their protection through federal law.

The nonprofit Foundation for Shackleford Horses was founded in 1996 and now manages the herd.

“We were devastated to hear the news of the death of Congressman Jones,” said Foundation Chairman and President Margaret Poindexter. “He was the Foundation’s advocate and ardent supporter, and over twenty years ago, he responded to the urgent requests for help from his constituents here in Carteret County, and took up the cause of protecting the wild horses of Shackleford Banks. In so doing, he demonstrated his willingness to listen to his constituents and their concerns, and his respect for what makes this place special and unique. In securing the passage of the Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act, he worked across the aisle in Congress and with representatives of the Clinton administration, to ensure the preservation of the wild herd on Shackleford for future generations. We will forever be indebted to him for his public service, grateful to him for his passion for all God’s creatures, and privileged to call him our friend.”

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Updated 8:46 p.m.

Congressman Walter Jones was often referred to as a voice for military members.

Among the many men and women he helped were two Osprey pilots blamed for a deadly crash in 2000 who, thanks to Jones, were cleared of responsibility nearly 16 years later, The Daily News reported.

Marines Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow were piloting an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that crashed on April 8, 2000, in Arizona, killing both men and the other 17 Marines aboard. A Marine Corps press release stated the pilots’ drive to accomplish their mission “appears to have been the fatal factor,” effectively placing the blame on the shoulders of Gruber and Brow.

Gruber’s wife Connie, of Jacksonville, found an ally in Jones who started fighting to clear the men’s names in 2002 and continued fighting until, in 2016, Connie Gruber received a letter from the Department of Defense that took that blame away.

Jones previously told The Daily News he pursued the issue for so many years because of his drive to help the families. He took the issue to the U.S. House of Representatives floor more than 100 times.

“(The Marine Corps was) trying to save a program even if they had to sacrifice a Marine to save it,” Jones then told The Daily News. “The Marines never leave a man behind. These Marines were left behind.”

When the letter from the Department of Defense finally came, Jones personally delivered it to Connie Gruber and her then-16-year-old daughter Brooke.

It wasn’t the only time the Grubers would have a special moment with Jones, though.

He met Connie and Brooke Gruber at Brooks Gruber’s grave in November 2016 to bury a Challenge Coin, The Daily News reported. It was navy and gold with the seal of North Carolina in the middle, and he told Brooke Gruber he believed her father and Brow would meet him at the pearly gates of heaven when his time on earth was done.

“You might say, ‘You know . . . there was a congressman that did so much to bring peace to my daddy,’” Jones told Brooke Gruber in 2016 after using a screwdriver to bury the coin three inches into the ground.

Standing by her father’s grave next to the congressman who cleared his name, Brooke Gruber told The Daily News she planned to teach her children to stay honorable and true, even if they were the only ones standing for the truth, just like Jones did.

Connie Gruber said Jones’ family’ asked for only obituary information to be shared and declined to comment on the Congressman’s passing out of respect for their wishes.

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Updated at 8:07 p.m.

Onslow County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jack Bright said Congressman Walter B. Jones always tried to do what was right and remembered him as someone who was good to work with.

“He always voted his conscience and always did what he thought was right,” Bright said.

In a 2018 AP interview, Jones said that he wasn’t afraid to oppose GOP leaders “when I don’t think they’re right.”

“It’s absolutely about principle,” he said. “When I leave Congress, I would rather have one thing said about me: ‘I will never question Walter Jones’ integrity.’”

Either Jones or his father, Walter Jones Sr., represented eastern North Carolina in Congress for five decades. The elder Jones, a Democrat, represented the region from 1966 until his death in 1992. Walter Jones Jr., then also a Democrat, lost the party primary to succeed him. He became a Republican and was sent to Washington two years later.

Walter Beamon Jones Jr. was born in Farmville in 1943. He attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia during high school and then graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Atlantic Christian College — now known as Barton College — in 1966.

He served in the North Carolina state House from 1982 through 1992, where he often clashed with Democratic leaders. He and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper were among 20 House Democrats who joined Republicans in toppling Democratic Speaker Liston Ramsey from power in 1989.

Jones also was a relentless advocate for campaign finance reform and controlling the national debt. The fiscal and social conservative won unopposed in last November’s general election after fending off Republican primary challengers stoked partly by Jones’ willingness to dissent from the Washington leaders of his party. For example, he voted against the tax overhaul promoted by President Donald Trump and a “repeal and replace” plan for President Barack Obama’s health care law.

When working with Onslow County government, Bright said Jones was prompt to respond when asked for information or action on certain issues. He even had some office space at the Onslow County Government Center on Northwest Corridor Boulevard, Bright said.

One of the things Jones was especially known for was his work with veterans, Bright said. And for many veterans, Jones helped them obtain their benefits.

His ultimate opposition to the Iraq war came with the irony that he instigated a symbolic slap against the French when their country early on opposed U.S. military action. Jones was among the House members who led a campaign that resulted in the chamber’s cafeteria offering “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” — instead of French fries and French toast.

Jones said he introduced legislation that would have required President George W. Bush’s administration to begin withdrawing troops in 2006 because the reason given for invading Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, had proved false.

“If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have supported the resolution” to go to war, Jones said in 2005. Jones took heat for his reversal from GOP colleagues. He ultimately signed well over 11,000 letters to the families of dead troops, describing that as a penance of sorts.

“For me, it’s a sacred responsibility that I have to communicate my condolences to a family,” Jones said in a 2017 interview with The Associated Press. “And it’s very special to me because it goes back to my regretting that I voted to go into the Iraq war.”

But it wasn’t just Iraq military men and women Jones helped. Bright’s father-in-law was one of the North Korea veterans helped by Jones. He was a Purple Heart recipient, but his records were lost at the hospital.

“When my wife got up with Walter Jones, it wasn’t very long before he had the records located and was able to get his disability,” Bright said.

Similar stories from other veterans, Bright said, are common as Jones worked hard to get veterans any benefits they earned and deserved after spending time in combat.

Jones, who had served in Congress since 1995, had already announced his 2018 campaign would be his last. His death means Cooper will schedule a special election for someone to complete Jones’ two-year term in the coastal 3rd Congressional District.

Survivors include his wife, Joe Anne, and a daughter, Ashley.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Updated 7:25 p.m.

The Associated Press released the following story.

Republican U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, a once-fervent supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq who later became an outspoken Republican critic of the war, has died at 76.

The congressman’s office confirmed his death in a statement, saying Jones died on his 76th birthday in Greenville, North Carolina. As his health began declining in recent months, Jones entered hospice care in January after breaking his hip. He had been granted a leave of absence from Congress in late 2018.

He had served in the House since 1995 and had already announced his 2018 campaign would be his last.

Jones was a political maverick unafraid to buck his own party. He was one of the first Republicans to reverse direction on the war in Iraq, even as his North Carolina district included the Marine installation Camp Lejeune.

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SOURCE: New Bern Sun Journal