The Last Letter Home: A Soldier’s Song

Pfc Jesse Givens

On May 1, 2003 husband, father, son and friend, US Army Pfc. Jesse Givens died in Iraq in the service of his country. He was 34 years old. Givens was parked in an M-1 main battle tank alongside the bank of the Euphrates River in Al Habbaniyah, Iraq. The riverbank gave way, resulting in the tank falling into the river. His comrades tried desperately and unsuccessfully to free him. Ironically, Pfc. Jesse A. Givens drowned in the desert. Givens was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colorado. He had shipped out just 3 weeks prior to his death, on April 6th. Two weeks prior to his death, he wrote a final letter, and mailed it to his wife Melissa, his five year-old son Dakota (nicknamed ‘Toad’) and his unborn child Carson (nicknamed ‘Bean’)

Last Letter pg1

The final letter arrived a month after the funerals, memorial services and gun salutes. It came in the mail, and delivered to Melissa Givens in the maternity ward, where she had just given birth to the son Jesse Givens would never hold….

“He called me a week before [his death] and told me he had written the letter, but not to open it unless he died,” Melissa Givens said.

Male Vocal Group – Cantus

Out of this tragedy, Pfc. Givens last letter home has made a tremendous impact on thousands of strangers. Something he certainly didn’t intend, and never could have imagined.

Since 2003, the letter has been published in the New York Times, and featured in the HBO Documentary Film “The Last Letters Home“. In 2006, the mens vocal ensemble Cantus commissioned composer Lee Hoiby to write a song for them. Mr. Hoiby received permission from Melissa Givens to set the words of the letter to music. It was originally written for a men’s trio of voices (1 Tenor, 2 Baritones). Later, it was set into a full choral work.

Last Family Photo: April 6, 2003

Listening to Lee Hoiby’s setting of Jesse Givens’ letter, Erick Lichte [director of Cantus] says he’s especially touched by the closing lines: “Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.”

“The hopefulness and the love of life that’s expressed in his words is immeasurable, It’s almost too much to bear.”

– as reported by Minnesota Public Radio

As we prepare to lay 2009 to rest, this seems a fitting tribute of remembrance. I hope that as we each step boldly into 2010, we will include the resolve not to take our freedom for granted. May the death of Pfc. Givens and all of his fallen brothers and sisters of the armed forces not be in vain. May the living sacrifice of the surviving families, friends, and fellow enlisted servicemen & women be forever honored.

Last Letter pg2

“…I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. . . . The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family…I’ll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life…There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A million lifetimes’ worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you… “

I pray that Givens’ faith, hope, and love of family will live on in each of us.

Video tribute created by Seth Adam Smith

To read the full text of Jesse Givens Final Letter Go To:

To Read An Indepth Interview – Go to


  1. Mo Sop:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It brought tears to my eyes. You (Mo Sop) and Seth Adam Smith are gifts to the Mormon blog world.

    I am linking this post over at “Mormon Insights.” I hope you get some traffic from it.


  2. Thank you so much, Seth Adam Smith and Mormon Soprano, for producing that incredible video. I am very touched.

    Allow me to clarify: It was never written for a trio, but for Cantus, a male vocal ensemble of 9 unaccompanied voices, divided into three parts. Since then it has been sung by larger groups and I have made an arrangement for mixed chorus.
    I also made a version for baritone and piano, and the piano accompaniment turned into a string quartet, and even string orchestra accompaniment, which in turn now sometimes accompany the choral version. All versions can be obtained from the publisher Schott Music Company, to whom credit should be given. Schott is on the web or at 212.461.6943.

    Best wishes,

    Lee Hoiby


  3. Even after writing this song, and hearing it sung so many times — when I heard it again just now and saw the images you created, the tears streamed down my cheeks and my heart ached. Thank you for sending Jesse’s message to more hearts and minds.
    Lee Hoiby


    1. Thank you so much Mr. Hoiby for visiting and commenting! I appreciate your clarification, and your kind words. I cannot describe how much it means to me.

      I am sure that many of my readers do not fully appreciate the significance of Mr. Hoiby’s visit. Lee Hoiby is without a doubt one of the greatest living song composers of our time and his immense contribution to the song repertoire is recognized by singers and musicians worldwide. He has composed several full-length operas. His vast body of work includes some of the most moving songs ever written, premeired by the legendary Ms. Leontyne Price. I have personally performed many of Mr. Hoiby’s songs over the years. My master’s recital featured a favorite 5-song set entitled “The Shining Place”, with text by poet Emily Dickenson. I won two competitions and had a successful audition with one of the songs from that set entitled “There Came a Wind Like a Bugle”. The entire set was included as part of my winning NATSSA competition repertoire. Needless to say, MoSop is one of the most devoted fans of Lee Hoiby, and today she, and our site, has been greatly honored he took the time to visit and comment!


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