By Calun Reece, Fort Riley Public Affairs May 10, 2013
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- "These scars are my gift from God," said Dave Roever, public speaker, Operation Warrior Reconnect.
Roever, a Vietnam veteran, shared his life-altering story during the National Day of Prayer Breakfast May 2 at Riley's Conference Center.
During the Vietnam War, Roever served as a river boat gunner in the Brown Water Black Beret in Vietnam.
Eight months into his tour of duty, on July 26, 1969, Roever was burned beyond recognition when a phosphorous grenade that had been set off by an enemy sniper exploded in his hand.
"It blew right beside my face, and … in one second, my life changed forever," he said. "I looked down and my face was on my boots. I couldn't see what was left on my head."
The explosion left him hospitalized for 14 months, with numerous major surgeries.
Today, he tells his story not to gain pity, he said, but to be an encouragement to those around him, particularly to fellow Soldiers.
"Freedom is something that can only be fully appreciated by those who fought to preserve it. No one can understand better than the men and women in uniform," Roever said. "Let my scars tell you, I've earned the right to say, 'I understand because I was willing to put my life on the line, lay it down and nearly did for a cause I still believe in."
Faith in God has been his source of strength through times of hardship, he said.
While recovering from the explosion in the hospital, Roever said he lost his hope in God and feared rejection from his young wife who had not seen him since the explosion. He became so discouraged, he said, that he attempted to take his own life.
"I did an evil thing; I tried to kill myself," Roever said. "I had no gun or knife … I pulled the tube out, and I laid my head back, and I patiently waited to die."
Roever said he jokes now during his speaking engagements that the tube he pulled was the wrong one.
"I got hungry -- it was the wrong tube," he said. "Actually, you can kill yourself that way, but it's going to take a while; you're going to smell bacon and eggs cooking, and you're going to plug that tube back in."
Laughter has been a means to deal with the looks and the questions people ask him about his scars, he said.
"I feared rejection, I feared people would laugh at me, I feared people would ask difficult questions, and I was right -- I have been laughed at," he said. "I've handled it with humor. Yes, my fear came to pass, but I deal with it."
Although Roever said he uses laughter to encourage others, he also said he has empathy for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
"Do not perish this thought: Everybody gets depressed and everybody gets hurt," Roever said. "Getting hurt in life is not a question, it's a reality. The question is when you get hurt, how are you going to deal with it?"
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, Roever said. Tomorrow holds promise, and there is hope, he said.
Roever said his hope and faith were revived when his young wife, Brenda, walked into the ICU room to see her husband for the first time after the explosion.
"She bent down and kissed what was left of my face and looked at me in my good eye, and she said, 'I just want you to know I love you -- welcome home Davie,'" he said. "I left that hospital with a suitcase in one hand and a sweetheart in the other."
The couple has been married for 45 years.
"We're still together because we made a promise, and we kept that promise, and we're a happy married couple," Roever said.
After 45 years of marriage, Roever said he encourages other married couples to stand strong together.
"The Army is being attacked from every side against its Family … Don't let go," he said. "You can let healing begin -- save your marriages."