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Elizabeth M. Collins
WASHINGTON (Army News Service), Dec 02, 2008 -
The father of an Airborne Soldier killed in Iraq marked his son's 34th birthday by visiting President George W. Bush at the White House.
Marlowe Fletcher and his younger son Joshua were invited to Washington after meeting the president in New York twice and after Joshua asked Bush if they could ever pay him a visit.
The date - Nov. 25 - was chosen because Fletcher's late son, Spc. Jacob S. Fletcher, shared it with Bush's twin daughters as a birthday, a coincidence Fletcher said makes him feel particularly connected to his son's commander-in-chief. They met privately in the Oval Office after the Fletchers enjoyed a private tour of the White House.
"It's meaningful. Very meaningful," said Fletcher. "We appreciate the honor being paid to (my son) and all the other families too. It's an important day."
"It's our house," he added about the White House. "We allow them to rent it for four or eight years and it's very important. It's the history of this country so it's nice to see different rooms, different things."
Since his own son's death Nov. 14, 2003, while serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Fletcher has made it his mission to attend the funerals of other servicemembers from the New York City/Long Island area and comfort their families.
It's what his son would want him to do, he said.
"I don't know if it's something that helps (with grief), but it's something I have to do," Fletcher said. "I know that my son is here with me and if he were here, he would be doing this.
"It wasn't a job I was looking to do, but unfortunately, (the Gold Star banner) was presented to me at my son's funeral. I took it upon myself - I've presented Gold Star banners myself for the past five years to most of the families in Long Island and New York. A lot of us stay in touch intimately and it's closer than family as we have something very much in common, our kids. It's an honor to be there at the worst times of their lives -- wakes and funerals -- but it has to be done. We support each other," said Fletcher, who is also a veteran.
"It's almost like you're reliving your own child's demise," he continued. "But the strength is seeing the honor that's paid to these other families and their strength. And when they realize who you are and you're there for them, it's unbelievable the outpouring of love and caring that comes back to us."