Marine Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry 28, of Lorena, Texas; assigned to 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; killed March 8, 2006 by an improvised explosive device in Anbar province, Iraq
The Marine explosive ordnance disposal technician for whom a new dependents’ scholarship is being named stayed in Iraq when he could have come home because he thought he was helping fellow Marines and Iraqis, especially children.
“He was a good Marine with a soft heart,” his widow said in an interview.
Gunnery Sergeant John D. Fry didn’t have to be there when he was killed March 8, 2006, said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Tex., the lawmaker who put Fry’s name on a new scholarship for the children of people who die on active duty. Fry had suffered a serious hand injury and “was told he could go home, with a Bronze Star,” Edwards said. “He turned it down.”
“I named the scholarship for him because I wanted his sacrifice to benefit others,” said Edwards, the chairman of the House subcommittee responsible for military quality of life and veterans issues.
Edwards said it was when attended a March dedication ceremony in Lorena, Texas, that he decided to press for better education benefits for the military children when they lose a parent and decided to name it after Fry while looking at the Marine’s three children, daughter Kathryn and sons Gideon and C.L.
“These three little children were in the front row, and I just felt that what the government was doing for them and others like them wasn’t enough.”
“It was very emotional,” Edwards said. “It was a powerful thing.”
Fry’s wife of 11 years, Malia, said she knew Edwards was feeling emotional when the congressman started crying and had to pause in his speech.
One of the things Fry told people when asked about why he was in Iraq was that he wanted to help children, said Malia, who offered two stories about her husband’s duty in Iraq as examples.
In one incident, Fry and other Marines were called to a house where they discovered a mentally retarded teenager who was severely beaten and chained to a wall. He was wearing an explosives-filled vest that Fry volunteered to disarm, she said.
In a second incident, Fry was called to disarm an improvised explosive device in the backyard of a home. To get a better view, he climbed up on the house and discovered a young boy — about the age of his youngest son — peeking over a wall.
“They played peek-a-boo for several minutes until John gained the boy’s trust and got him to safety,” Malia said. “He told us this was the first time he really understood why he needed to be there. He said he wanted to be sure children didn’t have to play in backyards with IEDs.”
Malia said she was speechless when Edwards first told her he was going to name the scholarship for her husband.
“I didn’t know what to say. I just know that so many children are going to benefit from this. I am involved with a lot of widows, and one of the worries we have is how to provide a college education for our children. This will take care of that.”
The Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship, the official name of the benefit, promises the children of people killed on active-duty in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001, will receive the same Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as people who served three years of active-duty.
That means they will be eligible for full tuition and fees, up to the cost of attending the most expensive four-year public college or university in the state where they are enrolled, plus a monthly living stipend and book allowance if they meet the same enrollment and course load requirements as veterans. The book allowance, based on the number of credit hours taken, is up to $1,000 a year. The monthly living stipend is based on the military housing allowance for the zip code where the school is located.
The total GI Bill benefit is estimated to be worth $85,000 for a four-year college education, according to defense and veterans officials.
The Fry scholarship is one section of HR 2346, the 2009 supplemental appropriations bill, which is expected to come to a final vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday and by the Senate by the end of the week.
The college benefits for surviving children would take effect Aug. 1, the same time the Post-9/11 GI Bill takes effect.
Because this is a last-minute edition to the veterans’ education benefits program, the bill includes language giving the Veterans Administration until Aug. 1, 2010, to create a process for applying for Fry scholarships and promised retroactive payments to dependants who use the benefits between Aug. 1, 2009 and Aug. 1, 2010.
Benefits will be provided to the children of someone who dies in the line of duty on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001, with children being able to use the benefits until they reach age 33. Every child would receive 36 months of benefits, enough to complete a four-year education.