NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 11th. Happy Veterans Day. Welcome to WORLD Radio.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Today, WORLD reporter Jenny Rough introduces us to a veteran who endured the hardships of war. He tells us how God used the difficulties to lead him to a life of faith.
AUDIO: [VIETNAM WAR BATTLE]
JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: Fifty years ago, 24-year old Gary Beikirch lived in the Vietnam jungle. Beikirch was a Green Beret medic on Dak Seang Army base. The camp protected a tribe of indigenous villagers from North Vietnamese troops. He took care of any and every medical situation in the remote location.
GARY BEIKIRCH: I delivered babies. I was also the camp veterinarian, the dentist. I had performed operations…
Beikirch survived by his training and his wits. Relying on himself was a lesson he’d learned as a young boy after his parents split up.
BEIKIRCH: We moved around a lot. We lived with aunts and uncles. I became very independent, very self-sufficient. So I learned that if I wanted something and I tried hard enough, I could get it. And that’s the kind of mindset that existed in me at the time of the battle.
The battle began with a surprise attack by the People’s Army of Vietnam on April 1st, 1970.
BEIKIRCH: It was a devastating attack. We were surrounded by over 10,000 North Vietnamese troops…they had dug tunnels, and they broke through the tunnels, and they were right inside our wire.
As a medic, Beikirch jumped into action. He treated bleeding women and children. At one point, he threw himself on top of an injured man who was still alive to protect him from artillery. That’s when Beikirch was shot — in the spine. He couldn’t walk. His 15-year old bodyguard Dao, dragged Beikirch around the camp.
BEIKIRCH: And he carried me throughout the battle. We were able to continue to treat the wounded, bring people down to the medical bunker to safety.
The two kept working, even after Beikirch was shot again. Then Dao heard the whistle of an incoming rocket and threw himself between the explosion and Beikirch. The rocket killed Dao.
Beikirch woke up in a hospital. His stomach ripped open. Tubes poked out of every part of his body. In his hospital bed, he realized there was nothing he could do to save himself.
BEIKIRCH: When you’re in a battle, if you got a weapon, you have a certain amount of courage. But if you’re weaponless, you have nothing to have courage in. There was nothing that I could base my courage upon because everything had been defeated by death. So my courage failed me. I was there alone at the mercy of death.
He’d never been a spiritual person, but when a chaplain handed Beikirch a cross, Beikirch prayed the first prayer of his life.
BEIKIRCH: I said, God, if you’re real, I need you. That was all my prayer was. You know, it’s not going to be recorded in any common book of prayers or anybody’s famous prayers, but it was just a prayer from some empty shell of a person who had nothing else left.
When he left the hospital, Beikirch began to wrestle with questions of faith. But where to find the answers? A friend suggested psychedelics. Acid. Peyote. Mushrooms. Beikirch had post-traumatic stress. And guilt over Dao’s death. Tripping on drugs seemed to help.
BEIKIRCH: After I came down, after I got off a high, I still hurt. So I said, what else is there?
He drifted up and down the east coast. He reconnected with a cousin and her husband, Buck—who mentored Beikirch. Buck listened, instead of talked. He heard about how Dao gave his life so Beikirch could live. Buck gave him a book and Beikirch began to read about the life of Christ.
BEIKIRCH: The Holy Spirit just took the word of God and revealed to my heart that that was the God that I met in Vietnam, and that’s when Christ became my savior.
Buck suggested Beikirch get alone with God, to study His word. With a Bible, Beikirch started hiking the New Hampshire White Mountains. One day, he found a cave — and moved in. For 18 months. During the day, he attended seminary classes. But at night, he retreated to the cave and wrestled with God.
BEIKIRCH: It was my experience with God while I was in the woods that really brought me healing.
NIXON: And now Mr. Secretary, if you would read the citations…
President Richard Nixon awarded Beikirch the Medal of Honor in 1973. But it was intimacy with God that brought him fulfillment.
Beikirch soaked in the majesty of the mountains. The stars in the sky. And he soaked up the words of the Psalms. He communed with God.
BEIKIRCH: When I went in there with God, God introduced me to solitude. Solitude is a victory. Loneliness is a defeat.
Eventually, Beikirch understood that if he was to love God and love others, he couldn’t stay in his cave forever. He moved out, got married, and went on to become a pastor, and counselor. He’s spent his life helping others. Part of that work involved taking younger people into the mountains to enjoy God’s creation.
BEIKIRCH: We’re given this life for a greater purpose than just survival because survival causes us to look within. It’s what do I need to survive? Living is different. Living causes us to look out to others. What can I do to help someone else?
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough.