and Memories of Jesse
know that Jesse had many best friends, and I’m proud to say that I was
just one of them. I’d like to encourage any other good friends to come
up and share their stories of Jesse. My name is Gabe Fitch and I knew
Jesse my whole life. We grew up together in Florida and Tennessee and we
were best friends.
think one the reason Jesse had so many friends is because he was fiercely
loyal to his friends and very protective. I also know Jesse was a great
father and a great pilot.
think the best way to honor and remember Jesse is to remember our good
times. These include times of sadness, times of happiness, funny times,
and our friendship.
not quite sure when we first met because I think we were each about one
year old. Of course, I was born in April and Jesse in November, so I was
always 7 months older. I can remember our run ins with trouble when we
were about 2 years old in Homestead, Florida. Jesse and I were sitting on
the doorstep of the “Chrome” house and I was telling Jesse about how I
was sure I was the bionic man. Jesse said “sure you are, I dare you to
punch through that glass window.” Well, I have the scar on my right
wrist now to show that I took Jesse up on his dare without a moment of
reflection. I think Laureen actually may have stitched me up.
time in Homestead, Jesse and I found ourselves hanging out and playing in
a panel truck that was parked outside of the house on a hill. Jesse and I
found out that it had a push button starter and became infatuated with who
would press the button. When you pressed the button, the truck would try
to start and lurch forward. Jesse and I kept pressing the button until we
ended up about a half mile down the hill. For a 2 year old, it was a great
ride and we could then tell everyone that we had driven a car.
families both eventually found our way back to the Farm in Tennessee,
where Jesse and I started school together and spent kindergarten to sixth
grade together. When we started school, it was so well known that Jesse
and I were both trouble makers and best friends that the school officials
decided that we had to be split up. Jesse went with the morning school
group and I was put in the afternoon school group. When we were about 8,
Jesse and I cut our hands with a pocket knife and became blood brothers in
a show of solidarity.
can remember very fond memories of spending the night at Jesse’s place
as a kid. Jesse and Jason would be fighting. Davina would be trying to
avoid the ruckus, but couldn’t avoid being tossed around. When it was
time to go to sleep, Joe would tell us the most fantastic bear stories.
remember Jesse and I first changing our minds about girls. For so long we
thought girls just sucked. Then we started to think that girls were
looking pretty cute and we might want to kiss them. I can remember Laureen
hosting some of the earliest social functions for both girls and boys our
age. We had some dances and even then it was apparent that Jesse would be
a ladies man.
our families moved from Tennesse, Jesse headed to Clearwater and my family
ended up in Hollywood. I can remember one summer when Jesse came and
joined me and my sisters at a sports camp. It was so great to have him
around. He was very loyal and protective. When some obnoxious bully tried
to pick on me, Jesse introduced him to a headlock and the floor. Jesse was
always real good around the house and I can remember my mom saying “Why
can’t you be more like Jesse,” which is quite a complement coming from
some point in time, I saw a muppet movie and realized just how much Jesse
looked like the character “Beaker,” so I gave him the nickname Beaker.
I’m not sure how much he actually appreciated being called Beaker, but
he knew he was my boy. So he was Beaker long before he became “Freak.”
both started college in 1990. I was at UF in Gainesville and Jesse at
Embry Riddle. I remember visiting him at Embry Riddle. I remember thinking
that Jesse really needed to come to Gainesville to see some real college
women. The 9 to 1 ration of guys to girls at Riddle left something to be
desired. So I’d like to think I introduced Jesse to college women. He
came up a few times and was pretty excited to find out there were some
20,000 college girls at UF. I remember coming down to visit Jesse for
Spring Break in Daytona back when it was huge. Jesse even flew to
Gainesville a few times and took me up. It was awesome.
are so many good Jesse stories to share, but just not enough time to tell
all of them. So here is one of my favorites. Jesse came up to Raleigh, NC
to visit me when I was working up there. A group of about six of us
decided to head for a night of fun and debauchery at our favorite party
school, ECU. We hung out at a club and then walked a long way to an after
hours party. It was a pretty young crowd and at some point, the police
came to break it up. We headed out of the apartment and all decided we
needed to use the facilities and fast. Having no other recourse, we
decided to use the backyards of some apartments to relieve ourselves.
Jesse and Jeff went to one small backyard that was sectioned on the sides
with some wood fencing. Two other friends went to the next backyard
“stall” and Thad and I went to the last stall. We were just starting
when we heard some barking coming from the apartment where Jesse’s was.
I was thinking great they’re going to sick the dog on us. Well the next
thing you know we heard a sliding glass door open and the barking was
louder. I stepped out to the sidewalk behind all the backyards and there
seemed to be a bit of a commotion coming from Jesse’s area. All of a
sudden my buddy Jeff comes running down at us yelling “he stole the dog,
he stole the dog.” Then Jesse came running with the dog in his arms. We
couldn’t stop laughing. They tried to sick him with the dog, so he just
grabbed it and ran. Jesse put the dog on the ground and wrestled with it.
Pretty soon the dog was our best friend. He wouldn’t go home no matter
what we did. Jesse was a dogs best friend.
family has always had close ties to the Rhodes family. My dad and Joe used
to work together doing some very dangerous tree trimming in South Florida.
The kids in our families are all almost exactly the same ages. Jason and
Corina are the same age and went to school together until probably the
fourth grade. Davina and Fanny, my youngest sister, graduated at the same
time from New College in Sarasota. Jesse flew to Gainesville and picked me
up and we flew to the graduation together. It was awesome. It was probably
the longest flight I took with Jesse. I also remember that Jason and Jesse
were very close and this has to be especially difficult for Jason. Just
like my sisters are very close, Jason and Jesse being brothers and only
two years apart, were very close. My family couldn’t make it for this
ceremony, but on their behalf I want to express their most heartfelt
also wanted to talk a little about football, which was of course Jesse’s
favorite spectator sport. Jesse never played too many sports, but if he
did I think he would have loved football. We all know how he liked to
express himself physically. I can remember Jesse coming to several Gator
football games. He loved it and I still think there are very few venues
like a Gator football game with 90,000 people are screaming their hearts
out for their team. So Jesse fit right in. Jesse even got to attend one of
the best games ever in Florida Gator history. We went to the 1997 Florida
versus Florida State game, where the Gators won like 27-24 on a last
minute touchdown. I also remember Jesse coming last year with Alison and a
sixth month old Emma. Although, Emma was a trooper, she couldn’t handle
the brutal sun. So Alison, Jesse and Emma spent much of the time in the
shade of the end zone. I can still see his big arms holding this precious
little baby. He could see how much he loved her any time they interacted.
I know how much Jesse loved the Bucs and I was so happy for him and them
when they won a Superbowl. I found myself cheering for them because of
Jesse and his undying loyalty to his team. I know he reacted the same for
worked so hard and struggled financially at times. It’s just so hard to
see him go after all that effort and finally getting to the point in his
career that he deserved. I never had any fear of flying with Jesse. He
told me one time that “kids try to kill me everyday,” when he was
working as a flight instructor at Riddle.
know Jesse was a great pilot and I know he died as a hero. I know he loved
Alison, Emma, Ethan and Cassidy. I know he was a great father because, as
others have said, he was just a kid at heart. And anytime you watched him
interact with kids, you just knew they loved him.
was my best friend. And at least I know he died doing what he loved and
right now I believe he’s flying high with his son.
just reminds us that life is precious, so get out and enjoy it to its
fullest. You know Jesse would be.