Mar 17 2016

Fischer Honors Fallen Veteran Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Neb.

Speech on Senate Floor is Third in Series Paying Tribute to Nebraska Heroes

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Senator Fischer’s floor speech on Lieutenant Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Nebraska.

WASHINGTON – This afternoon, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) spoke on the Senate floor as part of her initiative to honor Nebraskans who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout this year and beyond, Senator Fischer will deliver remarks as a memorial to each of these heroes. 

Her maiden speech in January told the story of Sergeant Josh Ford, who was killed in Iraq in 2006. In February, she honored Sergeant Jeff Hansen of Cairo, Nebraska, who lost his life in a 2006 Humvee accident in Iraq. Today, she paid tribute to Lieutenant Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Nebraska. Lieutenant Fritz was killed in 2007 following a raid by enemy combatants in Karbala, Iraq.

Below is the full transcript of today’s speech featuring Lieutenant Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Nebraska:

Mr. President, I rise today to continue my tribute to Nebraska’s heroes and the current generation of men and women who lost their lives defending our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each of these Nebraskans has a special story to tell.

Throughout this year and beyond, I will continue to honor their memory here on the Senate floor.

Today, I wish to highlight the life of Lieutenant Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Nebraska. 

Jake, as he was known to his friends and loved ones, grew up on his family’s farm near Verdon, Nebraska, a town with less than 200 people. 

While attending Dawson-Verdon High School, Jake thrived and stood out as a model student.

He was an all-around athlete and played the baritone in the honor band.

He was also passionate about helping others in need, and he regularly devoted his time to organizations that combat substance abuse in Verdon and around the state.

Jake’s former principal, John Eickhoff, described him as “a great kid, student, and athlete.” 

Principal Eickhoff recalls, “if I had a school full of Jacob Fritzs, I wouldn’t have had anything to do.”

When Jake entered his senior year of high school, his focus remained on this commitment to helping others, and he began pursuing a career in the U.S. military. 

His mother, Noala, recalls Jake’s dream of serving his country, which was inspired by his grandfather, a retired Air Force officer. 

Karen Mezger, a family friend, recalls that Jake “wanted to have a career in the Army and, more than anything, come back to Verdon and live the life of a gentleman farmer.”

So, with the support of his family and a nomination from then-Senator Chuck Hagel, Jake left Nebraska in June of 2000 to begin his first year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  

As soon as he arrived, Jake earned a reputation among his fellow cadets as a warm and supportive person.

His friend, First Lieutenant Travis Reinfold, recalls Jake’s Midwestern values:

“I called him ‘Jolly Jake,’” Lieutenant Reinfold remembers, “because no matter who you were, he always gave you a warm country smile.”

Lieutenant Reinfold also noted Jake’s superb voice as a member of the West Point Glee Club. 

His voice was always filled with conviction and beauty, particularly when singing the hymn “Mansions of the Lord.” 

After four years, Jake graduated from West Point with a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army on May 28, 2005.  

Following specialty training, Jake was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, at Fort Richardson, Alaska.   

Not long after Jake’s arrival at Fort Richardson, the 2nd Battalion was deployed to Iraq.

It was 2006, and the war was escalating.

The insurgency was in full force and threatening to erase the progress made by American troops.

By the end of that year, President Bush announced a counterassault, known as the “surge,” and deployed an additional 30,000 troops to the region.

Lieutenant Fritz joined this effort and routinely volunteered at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Karbala to assist Iraqi soldiers.

Jake had a natural instinct to step up and take charge.

He felt an obligation and commitment to the mission, which often required volunteering for these types of assignments.  

But, shortly after Jake arrived at Karbala, all hell broke loose.

On January 20, 2007, enemy militants disguised as friendly soldiers, entered the base and attacked.

In a matter of minutes, Lieutenant Fritz and three other American soldiers were captured.

The militants rushed Jake and the other hostages east toward Mahawil. 

American troops quickly located their trail and followed in hot pursuit.

Shortly after crossing the Euphrates River, and with American forces gaining, the militants attempted to hasten their escape by executing the four captives.

The American soldiers were stripped of their identification and shot as the militants fled the scene.

Jake was mortally wounded. 

As his heartless murderers fled into the abyss, Jake realized his body might not be identified. 

In a final act of bravery, he managed to scrawl a few letters in the dust on an abandoned vehicle. 

When American troops arrived at the scene, they saw his body and the word “Fritz.” 

Back in Verdon, Nebraska, it was a snowy day in late January of 2007. 

Jake’s mother, Noala, arrived home to find two strange cars in the driveway.

Men dressed in uniform approached her as she walked to the back door. 

She instinctively knew why they were there, and she refused to listen to the words no mother should ever hear. 

It was clear her son would not be coming home.

First Lieutenant Jacob Fritz was laid to rest on January 31, 2007. 

He received full military honors and was buried in the church cemetery just four miles from his home in Verdon.  

Family and friends paid their final respects in a moving service that honored the courage, commitment, and sacrifice of their local hero. 

Jake was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, and the Combat Action Badge. 

His two younger brothers later followed in his footsteps, and earned commissions in the Army. 

They serve to this day with the same distinction and honor they learned from their big brother.  

Jake’s mother retired from teaching and spends much of her time helping Gold Star Families throughout Nebraska. 

Meanwhile, Jake’s memory lives on in the hearts and minds of the state he served. 

Nebraskans are forever indebted to his sacrifice.

First Lieutenant Jacob Fritz is a hero, and I am honored to tell his story.  

Thank you, M. President. I yield.

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