Sunday, October 21, 2018

Avalon Chronicles #93: "From Cave Man to Man of God"

by Allen B. Clark

On October 13, 2018 Linda and I attended two extraordinary and unforgettable events. The first annual Tribute to Valor was held for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Foundation, supporting youth character development, and Snowball Express, supporting activities for Gold Star children, the ones who have lost parents in combat since September 11, 2001. The lunch that day was a program of the America's Future Series, organized by our friend David Hamilton. Congressman Pete Sessions participated.

Entertainment was provided by Steve Ammerson, "America's Tenor," and Lee Greenwood, whose hallmark song was "God Bless the USA." Marine Vietnam veteran Dale Dye, well-known as an actor, author, and film consultant, was awarded the Medal of Honor Society Bob Hope Patriot Award for his fascinating life as a patriot of our country. My long-time friend, Jim Palmersheim, veteran, former Army helicopter pilot and American Airlines Captain, was an integral part of the gala and festivities.

Fourteen Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients attended, among whom were: Roger Donlon and wife Norma, Recipient for valor at Nam Dong Special Forces camp in 1964; my luncheon companion SEAL Tommy Norris and my friend SEAL Michael Thornton, Co-Chair of the event, both of whom were Recipients for their heroism in Vietnam; Gary Littrell, Co-Chair, Vietnam War veteran and former Society president, who especially captured Linda's heart, when, in a character video, spoke about students being "pushed up" rather than "pushed out"; Bruce Crandall, the colorful and courageous helicopter pilot of the movie We Were Soldiers, memorializing the First Cavalry Division's engagement in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam in 1965.

Amid all the glitz and glory of the celebrations one encounter stood out in amazing fashion. When Green Beret combat veteran Recipient Gary Beikirch was introduced at lunch, Tommy Norris had remarked that he had lived in a cave for two years after the war. That was immensely intriguing! My fellow West Pointer Marshall Miles had sat next to Gary and afterwards I asked him to introduce us. Linda and I met Gary and his wife Lolly and we engaged in a short conversation.

That evening we had a more extensive conversation with Gary, who was a Recipient for his actions in the spring of 1970 at Dak Seang Special Forces camp in Vietnam's Central Highlands, a camp near my own Green Beret Dak To camp in 1967. The layers of his life were laid out to Linda and me in what will become a long-remembered fashion. For him to have survived through an encirclement and assaults by three North Vietnamese Army regiments (10,000 men) was a God-given miracle.

Inside his camp were 12 Americans and 2300 Montagnard villagers, mostly women and children. The threat lasted 30 days. Gary wrote in his tract; "April 1, 1970...I can still hear the screams, the explosions, the gunfire." An artillery and rocket barrage began early followed by a "human wave" enemy attack. "Our jungle home had become a scene of horror, terror, and death." A fifteen year old Montagnard covered Gary from a round and sacrificed his own life to save Gary's. Despite his own eventual three wounds in his back and abdomen and inability to walk, he knew there were wounded that needed help. Two Montagnards carried him from soldier to soldier applying medical care until he was medevacked out by one of our helicopters that was able to land, after others were shot down. Gary was in an Army hospital for one year.

Then a deeper spiritual layer began to be laid in Gary's life. When a chaplain asked him if he wanted to pray with him, Gary told him he did not know how to pray. The chaplain said that was OK because, "God knows how to listen." Gary then recounts what transpired:

"My prayer was a simple one: 'God I don't know if you're real. I don't know if you're here, but I'm scared and I need you....Right then something happened flashes of light, no miraculous physical healing, no visions, but a very real Peace, a comfort, a 'knowing' that there was Someone outside of myself greater than my pain, greater than my fear, greater than Death...'"

With the gift of a New Testament and a study of the Gospels, on July 2, 1972 he knelt and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In September 1973 he enrolled in the White Mountains seminary in New Hampshire, but was not prepared for the other students to befriend and socialize with him, who saw himself as a troubled soul, consumed by his wartime experience. He attended classes, but took up residence in a cave nearby, to which he returned each day, after purchasing his "camping" gear. He rented a post office box in town and grew his hair below his shoulders. One day he was told to be near a phone to receive a call. He was summoned to the White House for an October 15, 1973 ceremony, where President Richard Nixon bestowed upon him the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration for valor in combat. Today there are only 74 living Recipients. He said he cut his hair for the White House ceremony!

One day he read a note in his post office box. It was from a local woman, who said she had noticed him in town. He finally located her in a laundromat after she left him a picture. They met and a whirlwind romance evolved, they fell in love and 45 years later Gary and Lolly are still married!

Gary Beikirch was presented the Medal of Honor and wears it fully aware that " was not about what I had done...BUT what He had done. What He had done in my life and wants to do in the lives of others. It was given to me not to honor me, but so that I could honor Him."

Gary honors Him with his service as the Chaplain of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and he proclaims, "I wear the Medal of Honor...For His Honor." Another decided "divine encounter" was gifted Linda and me once again.