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Veteran Declares Medal of Honor is a Symbol of Love

Vietnam Veteran Gary Beikirch says, “People often ask me, ‘Were you ever afraid that you were going to die?’ And I tell them that I wasn’t because in the midst of that battle I experience something that was greater than fear.”

Long before he received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the frontlines of the Vietnam War, Gary was just an aimless college kid in search of purpose, saying, “I decided I was gonna quit school, and I was gonna go into the Green Berets because of the training, their purpose, their mission. And that's what I wanted.” 

He got his wish In 1967, at 20 years old, when he became a Special Forces Combat Medic for the Green Berets. “Attaining the Green Beret was a tremendous sense of accomplishment for me,” Gary says, “so I looked forward to going to Vietnam as a chance to fulfill a dream.” 

That was until he discovered where he was headed – Camp Dak Seang in the heart of Vietnam jungle. Luckily, nearby was a remote montagnard village, where be befriended a 15-year-old soldier named, Dao. Gary explains,  “I said to this young Montagnard boy, ’I want you to teach me how to survive in the jungle, because I'm afraid of snakes, and I really don't want to run into any tigers.’ He said, ‘I don't want to teach you how to survive,’ he said, ‘I want to teach you how to live.’ He became my mentor. He became my bodyguard. We developed a sense of camaraderie that taught me so much about life.” 

Just before dawn on April 1, 1970, 10,000 North Vietnamese mounted an assault on the camp. Gary recalls, “We started taking artillery, rocket fire for hours. And then the ground assault started. Most of the Americans were wounded, most of the buildings above ground were leveled.” 

While shielding an injured soldier from a mortar shell, Gary was hit! Metal fragments from the exploding rocket ripped into his spine. Gary remembers, “The first thing I remember...was somebody next to me picking me up. And I looked and it was Dao...and I said to him, ‘How did you find me in the midst of this?’ He said, ‘This is where I belong, with you.’” 

Gary could barely walk, but through a hail of enemy gunfire he continued to rescue fallen comrades with the help of Dao. Gary remembers, “When he couldn't drag me, I dragged him. It was a love that overcame the fear of dying. We heard a rocket coming in. He rolled me over. The rocket exploded, and Dao was killed protecting me. He was the only reason that I survived the battle...but my greatest battle happened a few days later in the hospital.” 

Partially paralyzed by shrapnel and wounded by three bullets, Gary fought for his life, describing it as “My hand-to-hand combat with death. There was a chaplain that was standing over me, and he said, ’Would you like to pray?’ And I said, ‘I don't know how to pray. I don't even know who to pray to.’ And he said...’That's okay, God knows how to listen.’ I said, ‘God, if you're real, I need you.’ Something came over me, a sense of love, a sense of, ‘You're not alone, I will be with you.’ I said, ‘I gotta' find out what's out there, who is that that's out there.’" 

His curiosity stuck with him through 10-months of physical therapy. Once he learned to walk again he visited the one person he thought might be able to help: his Christian cousin Jan and her husband Buck. When he asked about God, they handed him a New Testament and said, "Read it." Gary explains, “I read through John 15, where Jesus says that, ‘As the Father has loved me, Gary, so have I loved you.’ He said, ‘You have not chosen me, Gary, but I have chosen you to bring forth much fruit.’ At that moment, I realized that Jesus was the God that I met in that hospital bed, and that He had a plan for me. I knelt down, and I accepted Christ as my Savior.” While he felt some joy, a war was waging in his soul. Gary says, “There are many demons...that you fight during the war and those become voices that you hear in your head over and over and over again, and they haunt you.”

So he took his fight to a cave in New Hampshire where he fought for his very soul. “I fought a battle in my own heart and my own mind," Gary recalls, "I said, ‘God, I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for you and your grace. I'm giving you my life totally, whatever you want for my life, that's all I want.’" 

Two weeks after that prayer Gary received the Medal of Honor. For Gary it’s a symbol of love, explaining, “It's not about me, it's not about anything that I've done. It's about the millions of other men and women who serve. It's about dying to yourself, caring for others. It’s about God and what God has done. Without His grace, I wouldn't have survived Vietnam. And without His forgiveness and His love, I never would have come out of that cave.” 

Gary married, earned degrees in both Psychology and Sociology, worked as a counselor, and now serves as a chaplain. He shares his story with anyone searching for purpose. Gary believes that, “significance comes when you find out that God has a plan for your life, and you say, 'God, I will follow your plan.' And then you let God use you. You let God use you to love others, to make a difference in their lives. To me that's significance.”

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