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First I would like to say thank you for the tremendous outpouring of love and affection from our community at last night’s viewing for John. Roger at the funeral home told us this was the largest turnout he can remember. Close to 1,000 friends—and many people who were merely touched by John’s story—waited up to fours hours in the rain to pay their respects. We want you to know how very grateful and very touched we were by the response. As Congressman Johnson said in his tribute to John, entered into the Congressional Record, John truly was one of our nation’s best and brightest and dearest sons. He was already a great young man who would have served his country well, and I know he could have become one of our great leaders had he been given more time.
I also want you to know that we knew it would rain today, because one of John’s longest-running legacies is that it always rains on major events in his life: His graduation from high school, parents weekend during his plebe summer, his formal ring dance his senior year, and now today. Only his graduation from the Academy broke the mold. After four straight days of rain, God granted us a beautiful day for John’s commencement ceremonies. Perhaps rain is God’s enduring way of testing our love for John, and if today and last night are any measure, I think we passed the test with flying colors.
When the officers arrived at our door Saturday morning to give us the tragic news about John, our hearts and our lives stopped. The thought was too hard to comprehend and any parent’s worst nightmare. Our son, who had just graduated from the United States Naval Academy with academic honors, was looking forward with excitement and anticipation to entering flight school in Pensacola in September.
He was also excited about coming home for his mother’s birthday, and giving us the latest news from the Naval Academy, where he was stationed for the summer during Plebe training exercises. One of the police officers who came to our door was Bob Fischer, the father of Peter Fischer, who is one of those Plebes at the Academy. In June, our son had presented Peter with his appointment at an award ceremony at Egg Harbor Township High School, where John graduated 4th in his class in 1996.
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Over the past several days, the outpouring of love and support we have received from our family, our friends, and our community has sustained us through the absolute devastation of our loss. But it has also made us realize that it is not just our immediate family, but our extended family and our nation who has lost a son. And what a great son he has been. In fact he was more than a son—he was my best friend. I shared his hopes and dreams, his joys and his sorrows, and many fun times together. John had a gift for loving life and loving people, and anyone who met him immediately liked him. He had a wonderful big smile, a natural and infectious sense of humor, and an ability to make you feel special. We were told by his classmates—many of whom are here today–that John was the most popular and respected midshipman in their company.
In fact he was voted by his peers to be Human Relations Officer for 24th Company. As the company HERO, John served as a peer counselor and advisor, helping his fellow midshipmen with personal and academic problems. He also didn’t take life too seriously and regularly cheered up people to take their minds off of the rigors of life at the Naval Academy. When his roommate Matt was having some particularly tough academic challenges in one of the Academy’s toughest majors, it was John’s constant joking and encouragement that helped Matt make it through. Matt—who is with us today—was going to be John’s roommate in Pensacola, where they were going to begin their training as Naval Flight Officers. Matt was like a brother to John and a son to us, as were many of his friends from High School, like Mike, Phil, Evan and many others who are with us. As his brothers you are also our sons, and we will cherish you as much as we cherish John.
But there is no question that John’s closest and dearest friend was his sister Jennifer. The two of them were inseparable. People who knew them envied their relationship. They adored each other and had great fun together, whether it was hanging out with friends, going to the beach, watching their favorite show the Simpsons, or swing dancing, which they both loved as much as they loved each other. And then there was John’s love for his mother. He treated her with the greatest love and respect I have ever seen. He was kind and thoughtful, always remembering to call her and send her cards and letters. She almost single-handedly got him through Plebe summer with her care packages filled with chocolate chip cookies, and one of her great joys was making a home cooked meal for John when he came home. Last Christmas he gave her a Lladro porcelain angel he had bought in Ibiza Spain during a summer cruise with the Navy, and it is now her most cherished belonging.
It was John’s love of life, our family, and his friends that we will miss the most. A big part of our lives has died, too. As Christians we believe with all our hearts that John is in Heaven with his grandparents and my brother Rob’s two sons, and that some day we will be reunited with him. But for now with every fiber of our being we just want him back with us, in our arms again, sleeping in his bed, and laughing with us about his latest fun adventure.
We went on great vacations with John: Bermuda, The Grand Canyon, Disneyworld, Sanabel Island Florida, Maine, and our favorite vacation: a ten day road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with stops in Monterey, Carmel, the Hearst Castle and being in the audience for the Tonight Show. After the show we waited by the gate so John could get an autograph from Jay Leno. I was looking through John’s effects and saw another of John’s cherished mementos, actor Nicholas Cage’s autograph on a twenty dollar bill. John spotted the movie star at Circuit City a few years ago and all he had in his pocket was a twenty dollar bill, so Cage graciously wrote his name on the bill and told John: “At least now I know my signature is worth twenty dollars.”
We have tried to spare ourselves from the horrible details of the accident that took John’s life, but we know that he swerved to try and avoid the other car that was coming at him head on. It is our hope and our prayer that his actions saved the life of his girl friend Kristen, who is recovering in the trauma center at Cooper Medical Center. Jesus said “No greater love hath a man than to give his life for another.” I believe John gave his life so Kristen could live, and I love him dearly for his sacrifice. God gave his only son, and now I have lost mine—I know how God must have felt.
To me, John was a perfect example of what Christ wants us to be: kind, gentle, helpful, loving and a friend of all. He never said an unkind word about anyone, and was the nicest person I have ever known. He never complained about all his trials at the Naval Academy, and lifted people up when they were down.
John exemplified in life all the qualities that Christ taught us. Love for each other, kindness, goodness and morality, and giving of ourselves so that others might live. If you believe in those values, then you believe in what my son stood for. As Christ, he also loved people and they loved him. He was gathering more and more friends with every passing day because people were drawn to his warmth, his great sense of humor, and his thoughtfulness. Last night I was told by several of the Plebes he trained that John was a kind and encouraging influence in their lives and the main reason they are succeeding at the Academy.
We must now all dedicate ourselves to the task ahead so that John’s memory will live on, and his values and lessons for us will continue to grow in our community and our nation. We can all live more the way John lived, being more giving of ourselves and kind with one another, thinking more of others and less of ourselves, and realizing that a smile, a kind word of encouragement, and laughter can make a lasting impression on those we meet. John used humor as his style of leadership, and his legions of friends will tell you how much they liked being with him because of how much fun he was. But one of his former high school friends also confided in me that John was the most moral person he ever knew. He said “we all believed that John always knew the right thing to do in any situation, and we followed his decisions because we knew he had that unerring moral compass.” There is no question in my mind that God lived in my son, and that John was an expression of God’s love for us.
We have established a memorial scholarship fund in John’s name at Egg Harbor Township High School, where John was president of his class. If you knew John, or just believe in all the good things he stood for, please join us in supporting this fund as a perpetual tribute to his memory.
John, your mother and sister and I, and everyone assembled here want you to know that we miss you, we love you, we were honored to know you, and your will always be in our prayers. You were God’s wonderful gift to us, and now we dedicate ourselves to making our lives a living gift to God for you.
John, you are my hero. No one could have loved a son more. You were the best son who ever lived. You did not die in vain, and you will live on in the hearts of the thousands of people you touched forever, until in the fullness of time we can be together again. Please stay in touch, let us know you’re OK, and send us an e-mail when you get a chance.
Dear Lord we commend the soul of John to your keeping. Embrace him in your loving arms, take care of him and know that your newest Angel is our newest Saint on Earth and your brightest light in Heaven.
We love you John. God Speed.