In 1979, I was the Youth Pastor for Tommy Barnett at Westside Assembly of God. Dave Roever was the guest speaker that Sunday morning, and I was excited about meeting him. We were both Texas boys and Navy veterans. The following is his story, as I heard him tell it. I was both laughing and in tears during most of his sermon.
Dave Roever grew up in South Texas. Like most young men, the last thing he could have imagined was going off to war. But like so many others, he was drafted to serve in Vietnam. Dave joined the Navy and was a river boat gunner in the elite Brown Water Black Beret. Soon after he reported for duty, he began his training. He had a ten-day leave before departing for Vietnam, and asked his wife, Brenda, to come alone to meet him. He needed to spend time with her before he left for his tour.
On their last day together, Dave and Brenda talked about waiting until he returned home to start a family, just in case he didn’t make it. He imagined himself coming back healthy, without a scratch. That day was the closest he would come to living out that fantasy. Dave kissed Brenda goodbye and said “Baby, I’ll be back without a scar.”
While serving on the boat in Vietnam, tragedy struck hard. The guns on his boat engaged in a fire fight. They were letting off 500 rounds a minute per gun against the shore, where enemy fire was being returned from a bunker. Seeing the enemy position, Dave picked up a white phosphorus hand grenade, pulled the pin, and drew back his hand to throw it. It was six inches from his right ear. Before he could throw the grenade, a sniper’s bullet struck the grenade causing it to explode prematurely in Dave’s hand. A phosphorus grenade explosion causes severe injuries and/or death in three ways: burning deep into tissue; inhaled as a smoke; and being ingested. The phosphorus burns at a temperature of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Extensive exposure by burning and ingestion is typically fatal.
When Dave realized what happened, he jumped in the water. His body was on fire. But phosphorus fire is unaffected by water, so Dave’s skin was still burning. When he surfaced from the water and inhaled air, he sucked fire down into his lungs, bronchial tubes and throat—scorching the insides of his mouth and vocal cords. After surfacing, Dave said his next words were, “God, I still believe in You!”
The effects of the explosion were devastating and the intense heat nearly eviscerated him. The grenade had blown apart his chest and left a gaping cavity. He could literally see his heart beating through a hole. His right hand and left arm were on fire. His head was on fire and had burned his scalp, ears, nose, lips and eyelids. Dave was left blind in his right eye, deaf in his right ear and the entire right side of his head was burned down to the skull. The right side of his face was blown back so far, his tongue almost fell out of his mouth. The medics loaded Dave on the helicopter and thought he was dead. When he was first put on the stretcher, he burned through it, fell, and hit the ground.
Dave was evacuated to a medical post in Japan, where doctors didn’t expect him to live. After surviving the initial shock, he was transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The wives would see their husbands for the first time in the burn ward—badly burned and bandaged—some unrecognizable. Many of them literally laid their wedding bands next to their spouse’s beds and walked out. The women were unable to emotionally cope with their husband’s disfigurements and chose to abandon them. Suffice it to say, Dave was more than anxious as he awaited his wife’s arrival.
Brenda walked in and was unable to recognize his disfigured body. She actually went up and read the chart on his bed to confirm it was him. Then she read the tag on his arm to be positive. Convinced it was her husband, she bent down, kissed his face, looked him in his good eye and said, “I want you to know that I love you. Welcome home, Dave.” Straining to speak, he softly said, “I’m sorry Brenda, that I won’t be good-looking anymore.” Brenda replied, “That’s okay, Dave, you weren’t that good looking in the first place.” Wow—the power of true love! As soon as I heard that, it brought a rush of tears to my eyes, and continues to do so each time I repeat the story.
Even though many people thought the worst, Dave never did. He remembers his father recounting the Navy’s telegram advising that his son had died, to which they both laughed. Mr. Roever knew how much of a fighter his son was. As Dave began to heal, he realized God had a message for him to share with the rest of the world—no matter how bad things seem to be, don’t ever give up. God was using Dave as His example to teach others. Through it all, Dave would never give up. He had the support of his wife, his family, and his God.
Today, Dave Roever has been gifted and anointed by God as an international public speaker and frequent guest on national television talk shows. Dave ministers with a funny, heart warming and deeply serious style as he speaks to youth and adults in public schools, military installations, businesses and churches. His ministry is one of love and compassion, which has led to missions work in Vietnam and other countries.
Dave Roever always brings laughter to his own story of pain and suffering and isn’t afraid to crack a joke at his own expense. A gifted piano player, he does not hesitate to pull off his prosthetic ear and play the piano with it, announcing, “I play the piano by ear.” One time his fake ear fell off during a speech and he picked it up and put it back on. Many people in attendance believed he was a miracle worker and were saved as a result!
Dave Roever’s transforming story of grace embodies remarkable courage and survival, the strength and love of his marriage, and personal commitment to his Lord and Saviour. He shares his experiences of loneliness, struggles to survive, disfigurement and pain, and triumphs through Christ Jesus. Dave’s message of hope connects with the audience and presents God directed heart-felt solutions to many of life’s problems. “Everybody has scars,” Roever preaches, “Mine just happen to be on the outside.”
Despite his devastating injuries, fourteen months in hospital and countless surgeries to repair and replace his burnt skin, Roever made it. When many a man would have been consumed by anger and bitterness, he said he found gratitude in being alive. He pledged he would help other wounded veterans for the rest of his days. His survival and life testimony are miraculous. “I don’t intend to go out quietly,” Dave says. “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”