Our Patriot’s Journey

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Robert Bittiker .... along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dear Brian and Mary-

I want to extend my deepest sympathy to you. The loss of your son is a genuine tragedy. I know there is little consolation in the fact he gave his life in noble service to our country. A sacrifice that is unfathomable to me, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I have the up most respect for those that serve our country and hold a special place in my heart for those that make the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. I want to share the story of your son's importance to me.

Blue Ridge Parkway

I am a 47-year-old teacher, coach and tree worker. I have a wife, an 11 year old son that is a joy and a 15 year old son that is a high functioning autistic child (a constant struggle at home but a perfect child at school and with others. My parents are both living and are wonderful people. My dad served in Germany just after WW2.  I myself have not served in the military, but I do consider myself to be very patriotic and support our troops without reservation.  My mother is losing her battle with Alzheimer’s, but is still very pleasant to be with. She is however driving my dad nuts. My mother and father-in-law are great people. They gave my wife and I a membership to a winery on the parkway in Virginia. (Chateau Morrisette).  My wife loves wine. I rather enjoy it myself. (I have always liked beer better). The trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the great wine and the 5 star food make the trip to the winery outside of Stuart, VA a great experience. While it is expensive it is a great way to escape from the day to day.  My wife and I wanted to do something nice for my Mom and Dad. So we decided to take them to the winery with us. My dad makes homemade wine and enjoys sharing the wine making experience with others that share this passion. (My mom and dad really are not drinkers but my dad really likes the idea of all things farm related. (My parents live on an old tobacco farm in a rural area called Belews Creek, NC and raise all types of fruit and garden enough for 4 families). My parents were excited to make the trip with us.

On the way back home we stopped at Lovers Leap on the Parkway in VA. We got out and took a couple of pictures of each other to note the trip. I really cannot explain why, but just before leaving I looked over the rock wall. I saw the side of a card sticking up from a crack in the rock wall wedged in with a small rock. I first thought it was a religious tract and started to walk away. Curiosity got the best of me and I turned around and went back to look at it as Divine inspiration often times comforts and inspires me(usually I find those tracts trivial and uninspirational and just ignore them, but sometimes they hit home).

As I picked up the picture of your son and slowly began to realize the weight of my discovery it felt as if I myself had been shot. I looked at my sons and without a word began to imagine losing one of them. I am usually not an emotional person. But then, as now my eyes began to tear. It has been a tough year for my family and I. Just over a year ago my wife's 49-year-old brother (her closest relative and a Navy vet) died of a heart attack standing in WalMart talking to his brother and father on his wife's birthday. Less than a month later my best friend (we have been as close as brothers since 2 yrs old) drowned in Belews Creek Lake, a place we shared many, many wonderful memories. Without Dennis and John, my wife and I would have not have met or been able to form the relationship that led to our marriage and the birth of our children.  Recently we even lost our dog of the past 10 years (a true companion and family member) to kidney failure. I would like to say I understand your loss and pain. I do not. I only understand my own. I look at my children and hope I never understand what you feel. I am happy for you that the legacy your son leaves behind is one of honor. I hope you can take solace in the fact God looks after us and when we serve our earthly purpose we go to him and in the blink of an eye we will all be together again.

Having said all that, I want to tell you the details of your son's travel with me. Since acquiring his card, I placed him in several places that are very important to me only to remove him as nobody took it by the time I was ready to go. Robert stood watch in the weight room at Reynolds High in Winston-Salem as young men worked to get stronger. He watched my oldest son struggling to learn to wrestle in the mat room.  He watched my youngest son and his teammates play little league baseball, he watched as I cut down trees as tall as 70-80' in yards as small as a 2 bedroom house. He went fishing with me and my sons to my favorite pond. Robert's memory has been shared with several people. Two of those people were Bronze Star recipients (one Sergeant Major from the Vietnam War and the other just awarded for service in Iraq).  I now sit in a hotel room in Myrtle Beach. I have Robert's card with me now. I have been on the balcony of the 15th floor with Robert’s card facing to ocean, small children playing, and beautiful women and as pretty a sunrise as God ever created this morning. The beach is now full and families play and are growing stronger. It is difficult for me to part with the card for some odd reason I cannot explain. I will never part with the memory of a soldier, son and American Hero that died on the far away sands of Iraq defending the freedom and ideals we common Americans take for granted every single day.

Thank you so very much for sharing your son with me. I hope his memory card brings as much to the next person that picks it up. No matter what happens to the card or whether you ever hear from anyone else your son’s memory has impacted many other people already. I have fashioned a card holder using wire and an alligator clip in hope of preventing the card from blowing away in the wind. It is my intention to watch it until someone else picks it up.

May God bless you and look over you. Thank you.

J.A.

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