Rep. Walter Jones, N.C. Republican and Iraq war critic, dies at 76


But it was his stark reversal of his support for Bush’s war in Iraq that Jones was most famous for, a turnabout that marked the beginning of a period increasingly outside the House Republican mainstream.

Jones initially supported the war in 2002 — even going so far as to have spearheaded the effort to persuade the House cafeterias to rename french fries as “Freedom Fries” to protest France’s opposition to the U.S.-led war.

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“This is a real tribute,” he said at the time. “Whenever anyone orders Freedom Fries, I hope they will think about our men and women who are serving in this great nation.”

But he soon regretted the vote, he told The Associated Press in 2017. After he attended funeral services for Marine Sgt. Michael Bitz in 2003, he wrote an apologetic letter to Bitz’s family. And he continued writing such letters — more than 11,000 to relatives of dead U.S. service members in the following years.

When Jones wrote that first letter, “there were a lot of emotions going through my mind, and I still carry today the pain of voting for an unnecessary war,” he told The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, in November 2017.

Jones told the newspaper that he also began regularly visiting wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland “to be reminded that war is hell — people die; people get wounded.”

Jones was a conservative Democrat when he first ran to succeed his father representing the 3rd District in 1992. He lost, and in 1994, he joined the Republican Party and was elected as part of the so-called Republican Revolution led by Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

But Jones’ opposition to the war after 2003 highlighted his growing estrangement from some elements of his party. Jones voted with the party 81 percent of the time over his full congressional career — but only about 60 percent of the time after Trump was sworn in in January 2017.

He called on Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., then the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to step aside from the committee’s investigation of alleged Russian influence in the 2016 election, arguing that Nunes was too closely tied to Trump.

And he consistently opposed U.S. military actions overseas since Trump took office, sharply criticizing U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and Syria.

Colleagues remembered Jones on Sunday as a man of principle who stood up for his beliefs even when they were unpopular.

“He was a public servant who was true to his convictions and who will be missed,” Republican North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said: “He always did what he felt was right for his constituents, his district, and his country, and it was no wonder why he was so widely admired and trusted.”