Jim Daly: I’m Jim Daly and this is Focus on the Family. Today is Memorial Day, a time when we honor the sacrifice for freedom.
[Music Transition to Callers]
Dave: I would like to honor Ben Leihe. He was killed December 3rd, 2004, during Iraqi Freedom.
Melanie: My cousin, Dean McIntyre, died in the Korean war.
Woman: Hugh Wallace Breckenridge, United States Marine Corps, killed in action, Iwo Jima. Thank you for inspiring me to serve my country.
Richard: To give thanks to my Uncle Ike for fighting in World War II.
Jane: My cousin, Roy, was killed in Vietnam in August of ’68.
Carla: My brother, Lonnie Eric Knutsen. He gave himself.
Tim: Sgt. Holt Staples took part in Battle of the Bulge and was killed in action.
Rick: James Mullen is a hero. He died at Normandy on the beach.
Cassandra: I lost my brother, Brett Bornawitz, about a year ago. He was an Army Sergeant, serving in Afghanistan.
J.S.: His name was Gary Reed Klodfelter. He died in the jungles of Vietnam in 1969. J.W., I won’t forget you anytime soon.
John Fuller: Some moving recollections of loved ones and friends who gave their lives for our freedom. And it’s our hope that today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, you’ll be inspired to reflect about the price of freedom and to remember. We’ve got some incredible stories of loved ones who gave their lives serving our country.
Jim: And John, these aren’t just names on a list. Every person who has not only served our country, but died as a result of defending our freedoms, they deserve to be honored and to be remembered. And today we want to do that. We want to provide you with stories that you can hang onto. Soldiers don’t think of their wants and their needs in the midst of battle. They’re focused on the mission.
John: And we had the privilege of speaking with someone who was right there, who did that, Dave Roever. He was a Vietnam Vet and nearly lost his life in July of 1969, serving with the U.S. Navy. If you didn’t hear that conversation, we’ve got the CD or download at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Dave now provides comfort to our men and women of the military. He speaks around the world at a lot of our bases to encourage these men and women to remember what’s most important in life and what they’re doing and the honor of their service. Here’s a short conversation I had with Dave Roever on today’s Focus on the Family.
Jim: Dave, you’ve had some fantastic, unbelievable opportunities to watch God answer prayer. You’ve talked about some of those. Tell us about how God answered your prayer to comfort the friend of a fallen soldier whose casket was being flown, it’s even hard to say, but being flown from Baghdad. Many of us have been on those flights—
Dave Roever: Right.
Jim: –where the fallen have been “couried” back home. Um…
Dave: It’s one of those fascinating God jigsaw puzzles, how He puts it together. You don’t even have the framework. You don’t have a boundary to pick and choose from. I was on a DOD tour as a resiliency coach with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, which is what I do as a contractor for my country. And I got in at 11:59, midnight. Rolled up to a stop beside a big C-130 and bingo. It’s midnight. I stepped off that plane. My feet hit the ground at 12 o’clock midnight.
And I jumped out and I ran around and was standing behind the C-130 as they off loaded a casket. Now it’s not called that at that time. It’s called “transfer case” or something other than that. It’s only a casket after it’s sent home for internment.
And as it was sitting there, the lights were bright on me and the attending chaplain recognized me from the Air Force Academy, where I’d spoken for graduation. And he said, “Mr. Roever, join me.” And I walked up and as I did, I walked up the ramp, I looked into the eyes of these young warriors who were standing full attention, with still mud and blood and spent gun powder from the morning battle. And the last officer killed in the war in Iraq, his remains in that transfer case were laying there. And the chaplain says, “Join me.” It was a God moment.
Dave: As I walked up and looked at those 19-year-old average age young warriors, I stood behind, let’s call it a “casket” for the civilian. And he said to me, “Chaplain, would you pray?” And I … I just prayed out loud. I prayed first for the gentleman’s mom and dad. Wouldn’t you?
Dave: Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t pray for his parents? And then I prayed for those young warriors standing still at smart attention for that prayer at the ramp, at the back of that C-130.
And then it just popped into my head and I said, “God, somewhere back home there’s the very best friend, his very best friend. Send someone to comfort his very best friend.” I heard the whine of a Black Hawk, as the blade cut through that old night air of Baghdad. I opened my eyes and my general that I was assigned to is tappin’ his watch, showing me the circled finger, telling me it’s time to get on. So, I finished the prayer, jumped on the Black Hawk and started my holiday tour. It was for Thanksgiving.
On the trip back, many, many hours sitting a … across the Atlantic, I could not go to sleep. I got to the United States and of course, everything goes through Atlanta. (Laughter) And I’m sitting over there. You know, I don’t think the trump will sound without us havin’ to get a passport and boarding pass through Atlanta.
And I’m sitting there and I look up and the departure time is posted on a little marquee for 11:59 and my mind raced all the way back to when I landed and I remembered that whole moment. And it was so clear. I looked and … and being a little worn out, totally worn out, I went over to that agent and I said, “We’re not leaving at 11:59; we’re gonna leave at midnight and you know it and you just say 11:59 so you get your paycheck to include the hours of today instead of postponed for a week, right?” (Laugh)
She said, “No, we’ll leave at 11:19.” I said, “No, we won’t. We’re gonna leave at midnight.” She said, “Eleven fifty-nine.” I said, “No, ma’am.” I’m arguing over 60 seconds. And she went down and does whatever those people do to get the airplane ready. Came back up and I saw her face and it was not a … she was not a happy camper. I walked over and I said, “I’m right; we’re not leaving at 11:59.” I said … she said, “We’re both wrong. There’s an instrument problem. We’re leaving at 3 a.m.”
Jim: Oh. (Laughing)
Dave: I went across the aisle and here’s where the miracle starts.
I sat down and suddenly for the first time in that darkened gate, there’s no airplanes leaving. It’s quiet. The lights are out. I’ve got three hours of rest time. I got sleepy for the first time after that tour in Iraq. I started to doze off and suddenly I feel a bump and I look over and a man came up and did not sit down beside me. He sat down up against me and I don’t like people touching me, especially when I don’t know ‘em. And I pulled my shoulder away and I looked over at him and (Chuckling) I said my four-letter word, “Dude!” And when I said it, he looked surprised. Then I pointed, had to be 1,000 empty seats on that entire corridor (Laughter). I said, “Dude!” He said, “Sir, I’m sorry,” but he said, “I saw your backpack and your desert boots. Are you coming home? Are you a solder coming home from the war?”
And I’m thinkin’, “Oh, no, he thinks we’re gonna lose the war if I’m a soldier. So, I told him what I did as a resiliency coach, etc., etc. And then out of courtesy, I said, “Where are you comin’ from?” He said, “Well, I’m comin’ from the memorial of my very best friend.” And when he said those words, “very best friend,” my hairpiece stood on end. I looked at him and I said, “Your very best friend?” He said, “Yes, sir. He was killed.” I said, “In Iraq?” He said, “Sir, yes, indeed.” I said, “A second lieutenant.” “Oh, sir, yes, indeed.” I said, “Thanksgiving?” I said, “He was the last … he was the last officer?” “Oh, sir,” and this guy’s not touching me now. He’s sittin’ back. His eyes are big.
He said, “Mister, who are you?” And I said, “I am the man on the mission to come to tell you the rest of the story about your best friend—
Dave: –how he died, how he gave his life for his country.” And then I turned it and I said, after a complete dossier on that best friend, I said, “And there’s another best friend I want to tell you about. (Emotional) Who was the last to die for the cause and His name was Jesus and He’s the Captain of the Host.” And right there I introduced him to a brand-new very best friend right there. God did a miracle that started weeks before goin’ through the backside of the earth to meet one kid in a[n] airport in Atlanta. Never ever think that you’re alone. God knows and God loves one as much as He loves us all.
John: Well, that is such passion and heart and that’s retired Vietnam Veteran Dave Roever. He is still serving our country, looking for opportunities to point people to Jesus Christ, so that God might do a miracle in their lives. And wow! What an amazing man to be sensitive to that young man who had just lost his very best friend.
Jim: Well, and Dave pointed him toward the very best friend he could ever have, Jesus Christ. And maybe, maybe you’ve lost a loved one recently, too, whether they served in the military or not.
You know, Proverbs 18:24 says that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And God understands. He feels your pain and that verse meant a lot to me when I was that orphan kid growin’ up. In this case, God lost a Son, too, crucified by Roman soldiers in a brutal death. God watched His Son die, but it was so that we might be free.
And you can learn more about spiritual freedom that comes from a relationship with the Captain of the Host, as Dave Roever just described Him, when you read our online booklet called, Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God’s Family. No one’s going to force you to do it. It has to be from your heart and from your free will. That’s how God wants it. He doesn’t want a robot. He wants you to say, “I choose You, Lord. Save me.” And when that happens, man, He is in your heart for eternity.
John: Learn more about that Coming Home book and the most important decision you’ll ever make at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And we’re going to turn a corner now and hear some of your stories about your heroes.
John: Let’s start with Jewel from North Carolina.
Jewel McLamb: My brother, Hugh Gilbert Strickland – in the Marines at 18-years-old, was killed in 1942 on Guadalcanal. They just called us. They found his remains and we’re waiting for them to bring him back to Tampa, Florida so we can give him full military honors. We’re so happy to have him home with his family, that we will have some closure and know we got him home.
Derrick Peoples: I’m calling about Jesse Melton, the third, who was a captain in the US Marine Corp. He died on Sept. 9, 2008 in Afghanistan by way of an Improvised Explosive Device. Jesse and I were best friends for 16 years. Jesse was definitely one who lived life abundantly. He lived life courageously, loved God wholly, loved family gratefully and loved others selflessly. Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice, Jesse.
Dorothy Geikert: I wanted to make my dedication to my great, great, great uncle Linly. He joined the regiment in Maine out of high school to fight for freedom in the Civil War. He was really fond of and was a great letter to my great, great grandmother Josie. And he then died at the Bloody Angle at the Battle of Wilderness. But I am really proud to be a descendant of a person who … who passed on the Christian legacy, that it’s worth fighting for the truth that all people are created in the image of God and that this is a truth worth fighting for.
Andy Cornelius: I’d like to share what I call Steve’s story. I first met Steve when he worked at our wallpaper and paint store. Steve joined the Army 1969. After boot camp, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screamin’ Eagles. Soon he was sent to Vietnam. I received a letter from him in December 1969. He said he had a date the war would be over. He figured it out himself. He said, “April 12th, 1970 we will all be home.”
Every few weeks, I would receive a letter. He was anxious to return home to Oklahoma City.
I mailed letters and lots of Gospel tracts to him.
In March 1970, his letter stated, “Andy, your prayers have reached over 10,000 miles. I have been saved and made my peace with God. Thanks for praying and sharing.
April 10, 1970, his two best friends who worked in our store came in the door looking very sad. With tears flowing, they told me Steve was killed in action April 6. I felt like I had lost a brother, we were so close. I prayed with his two friends. We were all very sad. When I reminded them of Steve’s statements about being home April 12th, 1970 and his being saved by asking Jesus Christ into his heart in March of ’70. His coffin arrived April 12th, 1970. He was truly home, home with Jesus Christ in Heaven and home to Oklahoma City, his hometown.
Cherry: I’m calling to honor my father, Major Billy Joe Nave, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 1966 as he was concluding his year-long assignment in the Republic of Vietnam. Even as early as 1966, the war in Vietnam was already grossly unpopular in the United States. And as a show of support for the soldiers and their families in the military community of Ft. Benning, Georgia, where we lived, my little brother’s first grade teacher organized a letter writing campaign from her children to soldiers in Vietnam.
Dozens of letters were sent to my father to distribute among his men. In return, my father wrote a letter to the first graders in which he explained why he and their fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends were fighting in a tiny country so far away. He wrote: “Dear Mrs. Harold and first graders of Key School, thank you so much for your nice letters. I’ve read each one and I deeply appreciate all your efforts. All of you must be very proud of your fathers and I assure you there is nothing they would like more than to be home with you right now.
“However, because they believe as strongly in a basic American heritage that men be free throughout the world, they make this sacrifice of being separated from you for this year. Because we are a rich, free country, other smaller, less-fortunate countries look to us for guidance.
This is not the first time, and it will probably not be the last time that brave men like your fathers will go out to help another country against an enemy that would destroy and take away those things that are so dear to all of us.
Thank you for being such wonderful children. As long as we have children like you, we will always enjoy the freedom that Americans everywhere have always cherished and held so dear.” Sincerely, Billy Jay Nave, Major, United States Army.
For almost 50 years, in spite of protests, name-calling and the abandonment of Vietnam veterans, this letter has helped my brother and I to know that our father’s sacrifice — nor those of all war veterans– was not in vain.
In 1991, I was promoted to the rank of Major in the United States Air Force and I was pinned with my father’s oak leaves from Vietnam. I am so grateful for his legacy and for the service of all our men and women in the armed forces, especially those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and our freedom. God bless them.
Joyce: This is a story about my brother. He grew up in northern Minnesota and his desire was to always fly among the clouds. Well, he went off to the University of Minnesota and from there was nominated to the United States Naval Academy. My brother was an ace pilot and he even taught a lot of different pilots from various countries. He volunteered to fly in Vietnam and he was killed in 1968, but he was doing what he believed in.
John: He was doing what he believed in. And that certainly fits so many of the brave men and women who have served, and are serving, today in our Armed Forces.
We’re celebrating Memorial Day with you as we feature some powerful stories from family members and friends who want to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.
Jim: Well, these stories are so important and worthy of our consideration. And, if I may, let me recommend you spend some time doing that today because it’s so easy to treat today as just another holiday where we fire up the barbecue, have some fun together as a family. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Uh, take the time to enjoy each other’s company, for sure.
But we also need to consider what Memorial Day truly means, and why we’re celebrating it. What’s the point? Well, it’s that these heroes we’ve been hearing about, their service and sacrifice on our behalf, they’ve given it all to help us enjoy our freedoms.
And I want to encourage you to share these stories with others. With your family and your children especially. Because these stories are part of our history, as a nation. And we dare note forget them.
John: Hm. And with that, we have one more story from Dave Roever. And we mentioned before that he’s a veteran of the Vietnam War. Dave served as a Brown Water Black Beret in a Gunner boat, patrolling the rivers of Vietnam until a grenade altered his life forever.
Today, Dave has a ministry of encouragement to our active military troops, offering them hope and perspective, even as they prepare to lay down their lives on the line for this nation. Here now, a story he shared with us about a trip he took to Iraq.
Jim: Dave, when you were in Baghdad, you had a chance to hold a soldier—
Jim: –I can’t even imagine this, hold a soldier in your arms as he gave his life—
Jim: –for this country. Talk about that experience.
Dave: He was 19-years-old and he was from Indianapolis, Indiana. I was the right man at the right time in the right place. It’s the only way to put it. The steps of a righteous man are ordered of the Lord. I didn’t know when I had just arrived, just got off the airplane, that in our little short get together for making our plans, all the radios lit up at one time and when that happens, it’s not good.
Dave: Something big happened. And five were hit. Three were … died. Two would live. Two had already died, but one was 100 percent third-degree. And as I rushed up the steps, one of the attending physicians recognized me and he said, “Dave, that way, fast.” And they pointed me and I got into his room and I slipped my arm under his head and all of his skin just peeled off on me.
Dave: He was … he was fully conscious and … but he was blinded, but the eardrums are deep set and they were … they survived. He could hear me. And I just cradled him and I held him and I said to him, I said, “You know that this is not a hospital. It’s a sanctuary. And you know that this is not a gurney; it is an altar. And you know that you are more than a soldier. You are a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. And on behalf of a grateful nation, I have come today to tell you thank you.” And when I said the two words, “thank you,” his body shuddered. He drifted off and it was the last breath.
I cradled his head only for another second as the doctors came in and they tried to continue his life as best they could and what happened after that I’m not privy to, other than the fact that he did not make it. Of course, he could not make it.
Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to a Mrs. Bixby. He said, “It’s come to my attention through the War Department that five–listen to what I’m saying–five of your sons died gloriously on the field of battle, fighting for the Union.” He said, “My words cannot assuage your grief, nor are they intended to.” But he said, “I must say,” and I’m not quoting in that part, but I do quote what he said in the last sentence of that address to her, “The solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
And gentlemen, at this table, I say these words, trusting theologically that they are sound, but I want to say to God Himself, the solemn pride that must be Yours to have laid so costly a Sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. Thank you, God, for Your Son, Jesus on a Memorial Day that translates into freedom.
John: I’m John Fuller and this is a special Focus on the Family episode featuring some stories from Vietnam veteran, Dave Roever, along with several reflections from listeners like you who wanted to honor friends and family members who died while serving and protecting our nation.
Jim, as we were listening along I was so moved, and I realized this Memorial Day takes on special meaning for me. Last year, we went to Arlington, the cemetery. My Uncle Perry had served in Vietnam. He had a life-long career in the Air Force and he’s buried there in Arlington. And that place, and that ceremony, just riveted in my heart how special this country is, and the lives that were given for our freedom.
Jim: That is so good, John. As I said earlier, I hope this program has caused everyone to stop and reflect today. We have so much to be thankful for. Our quality of life, and the safety we enjoy. The freedom of speech and our religious freedoms. All of these were bought with a price, from those early patriots who fought for America’s independence, through all the years of all the wars and battles to preserve the ideals that this great nation stands for. And all of that is possible because of the heroes we’ve been hearing about today.
Now, even if your family doesn’t have any direct ties to the military, we all have benefited from their sacrifice and service. And what I’d like to recommend during this pandemic is, at least, as we’re beginning to be out and about, if you see somebody from a proper distance, just say “Thank you.” If you have an opportunity, buy them a coffee or something like that. Just let them know that you’re recognizing their service to this great country. I think that’d be a great way to celebrate.
John: We’d love to hear from you as well. Dave Roever has written an amazing book about his own military service and how God saved him when so many thought he would never survive. The title of that book – War and Recovery: A Spiritual Journey.
And we’ll be happy to send a copy of that to you if you can make a generous donation of any amount today to Focus on the Family. Make that contribution at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or give us a call tomorrow. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
And of course, we have that free booklet that Jim mentioned, both online and can send a hard copy, if you’d prefer. You’ll find that on the website, as well.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.