Burned beyond recognition by a phosphorus grenade during the Vietnam War, former elite Brown Water Black Beret gunner Dave Roever continues to live boldly for a cause.
"I was terrible to look at, little children would scream, and run into stuff," Dave is able to say humorously now.
Yet, the plastic appendages and scars from having 40% of his body burned off, are a daily reminder of the terrifying moment when the grenade unexpectedly exploded in his hand.
"Half my face landed in front of me. I looked down and my chest was gone, it's interesting that you can still know you're alive when you see your heart beating through a little hole in your chest like I saw," Dave recounts.
"My back was on fire, my arms were dripping skin, my left thumb was blown off, and my right hand was severed right in half.
"Even under the water, I could see myself burning, glowing, white-hot. My head bobbed out of the water for air, with what was left of me, I looked up and gasped out loud: 'God, I still believe in you!'"
Dave had never anticipated joining the Navy. He had just gotten married to his high school sweetheart and was studying to be a minister.
Despite this, he felt compelled to enlist in 1968 when he considered all the other boys who were defending their country.
"When I got into my military service, they eventually started training me with a Seal Team, which I had never heard about before in my life," Dave says.
"I would soon find out that was the meanest bunch of people that had decided to be in the military."
Taunted by the guys in his own barracks with names like 'Duddly-Do-right' and 'Preacher Man', Dave held tight to His faith in God through the temptation to "do what everyone else was doing".
“When you’ve been to the door of hell and back, you know the difference between life and death”"The days were coming in my life, when that decision at the age of 16 – when I gave my life to Jesus Christ – would become a matter of life or death.
"Believe me, when you've been to the door of hell and back, you know the difference between life and death. You know the difference in living, and dying a thousand deaths."
Soon Dave and the other men found themselves in a boat on the Vam Co Tay in Vietnam firing 500 rounds-a-minute at the enemy.
Next minute Dave remembers the feeling of holes burning through him.
He is able to joke about the incident now saying, "My Dad always told me, when I got older, to be a 'Holy man' – he never intended it to go that far!"
Later, he found out that one of his comrades saw the whole horrific scene unfold and, witnessing Dave's faith in God despite the circumstances, prayed to give his soul to Jesus right in the midst of the battle.
"They got me to a hospital, where I stupidly asked for a mirror," Dave continues. "They stupidly brought it."
"I couldn't get what I saw in the mirror out of my memory, that ugly face that was half skull, and half swollen to the width of my shoulder. I remember when I sat in school, and my face matched on both sides, and I didn't even know to be thankful."
Plunged into depression after being put on drugs, all Dave could think about was that he looked like a "monster".
"Folks, I'm not proud to tell you this, but I reached over and I grabbed the tube, and I pulled it out. I said to myself: 'Suicide's the way out. Kill this ugly thing. Destroy it, nobody will love it anyway'," he recalls.
Luckily he had only pulled out his feeding tube and Dave's fears were soon eased by the unconditional love his wife displayed to him despite his disfigurement.
"She so revolutionized my own opinion about myself, the fear of rejection began to pull away. She said, 'We have nothing left. We're down to only Jesus.' I want you to know, that's enough, He is enough," Dave says.
Still, it took a long time for Dave to come to terms with his appearance and, fresh out of hospital, he remembers crawling around the church begging God to take away the scars.
"I think I must have sounded like an old mooing cow, crawling around those alters, bawling, saying, 'Jesus, please take this away. I don't like being ugly'," he recalls.
Yet nothing changed, instead, God began to speak into his heart and Dave confidently says today, "I'd rather be able to laugh my tragedy in the face, and look the Devil in the eye, and say, 'I won, sucker!' Because, greater is He [Jesus] that's in me, than he [the Devil] that is in the world."
God has since been able to use Dave's disfigurement for good and has gifted him with great speaking skills, which he uses to bring a message of hope to schools, military installations, men and youth conventions, talk shows and churches.
He has also been blessed with two children, an honorary doctorate and a host of military service awards, including a Purple Heart.
Dave's passion motivated him to found two non-profit corporations, Roever Evangelistic Association and Roever Foundation, as well as Eagles Summit Ranch, where Dave Roever and his team help to restore hope and train wounded warriors and young leaders through Operation Warrior RECONnect. •