Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Barely a month after beginning his 13th term in Congress, longtime North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones died on Sunday -- his 76th birthday -- after being in hospice care for a month.
Jones was first elected to the U.S. House in 1994 to represent North Carolina's 3rd District, and won every re-election bid thereafter. He ran unopposed last year on his way to a 13th term.
"Congressman Jones was a man of the people," his office said in a statement. "With a kind heart and the courage of his convictions, he dedicated his life to serving his Savior and to standing up for Americans who needed a voice. He was a champion for our men and women in uniform and their families, always mindful of their service and sacrifice.
"He was never afraid to take a principled stand. He was known for his independence, and widely admired across the political spectrum. Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right. He will be sorely missed."
Jones had battled illness since last summer and entered hospice care in Greenville last month after breaking his hip. Because he couldn't travel, he was sworn in for his 13th term at his home in Farmville, N.C.
Jones is perhaps best known for expressing regret over his 2003 vote authorizing the President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. He initially supported the war, even coining the terms "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" to protest France's refusal to join the war effort in Iraq.
"I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether Bush was telling the truth about Saddam [Hussein] being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of mass destruction," Jones said in 2015. "Because I did not do my job then, I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that."
Jones later filed a bill to require withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2006, once it was discovered the country had no weapons of mass destruction.
"If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have support the resolution," he said in 2005.
The reversal angered many of his Republican colleagues.
Jones signed more than 11,000 letters to families of troops who died in Iraq and started a memorial outside his House office that featured "anybody that's been sent and died from Camp Lejune," a Marine Corps base located on the North Carolina coast. It listed about 580 names by last year.
"He was a public servant who was true to his convictions," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.
"Jones' legacy will undoubtedly be the unequivocal advocacy he put forth for the men and women who serve in this country's armed forced, and not just those who lived in his district, but across the nation," the state's Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said.
Before his election to the House, Jones served five terms in the North Carolina House as a Democrat. He switched parties when he ran in 1994.