By Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau , 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 09, 2018
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Looking into the mirror, a man doesn’t recognize the person who stands before him. The reflection is covered in a countless number of scars; scars of a tragic past and an event that forever changed his life.
However, these wounds enable him to share his message of fighting back and not allowing the darkest times to overshadow the brightest moments. The world can be a frightening and daunting place, but the man scarred for life ensures he lives a life of resiliency and encourages those who need his help.
This is how Dave Roever, a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, discussed with Team Mildenhall Airmen how tragedy on the battlefield offered him a different path in life, one he knows is of the upmost importance to service members and their loved ones.
“A man with a scar has a story to tell,” Roever said. “A scar is three things wrapped into one – its evidence you got hurt, you got over it and its evidence of empathy.”
Roever’s story began in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War. The young man from south Texas joined the U.S. Navy and graduated with high honors from gunners’ mate school, and subsequently received orders to Vietnam, where he would serve with the Brown Water Black Berets.
“I love the water, and growing up as a poor kid on the Gulf of Texas, you don’t care about big buildings, you cared about the big waves,” he said. “And I knew if I was going to serve, I was going to do what I want on the water and my love for this country enhanced my need to serve even more.”
Eight months later, Roever found himself in the jungles of Vietnam, where many young Americans fought and died alongside him. Tragically however, his own life was forever changed on July 26, 1969.
“As long as I live, this date will be etched in my mind,” Roever said. “On that day, I picked up a white phosphorous hand grenade, also known as a ‘Willie Pete,’ and I was unfortunately in the crosshairs of a lucky sniper whose bullet hit my hand. It blew up six inches from my right ear.”
This event would change the trajectory of Roever’s life, and ultimately set him on a path where he hoped to become a beacon of hope and strength. Somebody who would be able to spread a message of integrated resiliency and encouraging people to never give up.
“I’ve had 57 surgeries over the last 49 years, each giving me a little piece of me back,” Roever said. “And I’ve been in some pretty dark places during these times; not wanting to live, be around people and sometimes not even wanting to continue doing the work I love.
“But being able to climb my way out of those dark times and create a life for myself is the reason I do what I do,” he said. “I don’t do this because I think I’m good, I do this because I know what it’s like to stare darkness in the face, and I don’t want any of you to ever be there. I came to be a little light in the darkness.”
Roever, who is a spokesperson for Operation Warrior RECONnect, a service-oriented charity that helps veterans get back on their feet, expands his message of resiliency by promoting unity among service members and providing a lift to those in need.
“Growing up around suffering and going through my own pain has allowed for me to become empathetic to people who are hurting and need help,” he said. “I’ve realized to help people bounce back, you simply need to be the one to ask ‘Hey, are you doing all right?’”
Accordingly, another part of Roever’s message to Team Mildenhall Airmen was one of suicide prevention, and calling on all Airmen to be what he called ‘the last line of defense.’
“You know that saying ‘see something, say something’?” Roever asked. “Well, I’m encouraging all of you to get involved in your fellow Airman’s life. You know this person as well as you know yourself, and you’re able to tell when they’re in a dark place. Providing hope is the last line of defense.”
Asking questions, staying involved and caring for others is what Roever said is essential in preventing Airmen from ending their own lives, and he wants people to know they should not be ashamed to ask for help.
“When your own grenade blows up in your face - whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual - you need to be healed and need help reaching your destiny,” he explained. “Don’t allow your circumstances to take control of your life - seek friendship and your life shall improve.”
Spreading a message of resiliency and prevention has now become the life’s work of a man who once thought he would live a life of selfishness, but being in a world of suffering gave him the chance to change people’s lives.
“I know what it feels like to be alone in a world of pain,” Roever said. “And I cannot let those around me to be hurting when I know I can take the ugliest part of my life and use it to help others.”
Fighting back and being there for others are crucial tenements of what it means to serve in the U.S. Air Force, but being able to overcome tragic moments together is what Roever says matters most.
“There is always something good to come out of devastating moments,” he said. “Hold on tight to your dreams, think of others and know that spreading kindness will come back to you in a million different ways.”