WASHINGTON — When Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, first met the three young children of fallen Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry during a tearful Veterans’ Day tribute in Waco in 2007, he was haunted by their father's story.
With only a week left in his Iraq tour in 2006, Fry, 28, had volunteered to go on one last run to defuse bombs — and the last bomb killed him.
After another emotional meeting last March with the family at the dedication of the post office in Fry’s honor in his hometown of Lorena, Texas, the lawmaker realized there was something else he needed to do – provide for the college education of the children of military heroes.
So, in a major increase in GI benefits, Edwards inserted a provision in the supplemental appropriations bill that the House and Senate approved this week – the president is expected to sign it shortly - which gives full GI education benefits to children of active duty military service men and women who died since 9/11/2001.
Edwards, the father of two young sons, was moved to tears looking at Fry's three children, Kathryn, Gideon, and C.L., during both events.
"I haunted myself," said Edwards, "with how does one honor those three children."
Edwards, chairman of the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, came up with the idea of providing for college just before Memorial Day and spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who embraced it.
"I could not but help think of the Fry family," he said. "Late one evening, it just hit me. We can't bring the Fry children's family back but we ought to see that Malia Fry and her three children have a chance at a college education."
And Edwards said the response from other lawmakers was overwhelming: "It's so amazing, more members came up to me than I can ever remember and said 'why didn't we do it before?' "
Fry’s widow Malia, now 32, only learned last week from Edwards of the new benefit honoring her husband – the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry scholarship.
"I was speechless," said Fry. "Then, I cried."
" 'Do you know how much this will mean to everyone?' she said she told Edwards. "It's an amazing gift."
Under the provision, children with a fallen parent would qualify immediately for the GI bill education benefit: tuition and fees up to the maximum in-state costs at a public institution in their state; a
monthly housing allowance; and $1,000 annually for books and supplies.
The benefit is worth about $18,000 a year in Texas.
Edwards said that the total cost to the taxpayers of the expanded benefit is about $16 million a year, or $164 million over 10 years, According to the Pentagon, there have been 4,999 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.
And, said Edwards, the country owes their children: "No one has sacrificed more than the military child who has lost a parent."