A private moment between a congressman and the family he’s fought over a decade for brought smiles and kind words by the grave of a man who died 16 years ago.
“This has always been about the families,” said Congressman Walter Jones.
Marines Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow were piloting an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft when it crashed on April 8, 2000, in Arizona. The crash killed both men and the other 17 Marines aboard.
In July later that year, the Marine Corps issued a press release that said the pilots’ drive to accomplish their mission “appears to have been the fatal factor.”
Jones was contacted by Brooks’ wife, Connie Gruber, after she’d fought for two years to clear her husband’s name to no avail.
With Jones’ help, Brooks Gruber and Brow’s names were cleared in February, nearly 16 years after the crash – but there was one more thing the congressman wanted to do for the families.
Jones held a navy and gold Challenge Coin in his hand, running his fingers across the seal of North Carolina in the middle.
For Jones, the coin would be a reminder to Brooks Gruber’s daughter, Brooke Gruber, that he looks forward to seeing her in heaven. Jones said when his time comes and he walks through the pearly gates, he believes he’ll have two angels waiting for him – Brooks Gruber and Brow.
Kneeling beside Brooks Gruber’s grave, Jones took a screwdriver and dug about three inches down into the dirt to bury the coin, just as he did for Brow’s family in Arlington, Virginia. Brooke Gruber kneeled beside him, holding a bouquet of yellow flowers and wiping dirt from her father’s headstone.
“This coin is a reminder of all the honor and courage that Congressman Jones has shown to me and my father throughout the years,” Brooke Gruber said.
Years down the road, Jones said he hopes Brooke Gruber will come visit her father’s grave with her own children and dig the coin back up.
“You might say, ‘You know . . . there was a congressman that did so much to bring peace to my daddy,’” Jones said to Brooke Gruber.
He hoped she would share the story of their years-long fight to clear Brooks Gruber and Brow’s names with her children and have the coin to remember him and their fight.
Brooke Gruber said she’d teach her children to always stay honorable and true, even if they were the only ones standing for the truth, just like her mother and the congressman did. She’d teach them about the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment – the coin represents it all, she said.
After the coin was buried, the congressman stood by Brooks Gruber’s grave with his wife and daughter next to a large print of the Marine, a photo which has hung in his office for 14 years as a reminder of why he went to the floor of congress more than 100 times to clear the Marines’ names.
Brooke Gruber, looking over the photo of her father, said she’d never seen him so large. She was less than one year old at the time of his death and only has small photos at home to learn about him.
It was almost like he was there with her, she said.