Wounded Vietnam vet offers hope

by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

When Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony Brocato went to see inspirational speaker Dave Roever Aug. 1 at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, the mortuary affairs specialist from Maryland hoped the disfigured Vietnam veteran would offer words of hope to him.

Brocato joined roughly 1,500 troops — many of whom thought they were simply there to attend run-of-the-mill suicide awareness training. But Roever’s story — suffering horrible burns from a phosphorus grenade while serving on a Navy patrol boat in Vietnam and how he recovered — was told with a mix of humor, wit and subtle seriousness. It kept the crowd laughing, while on the verge of crying.

“It helped out a lot because I just lost a friend to suicide two months ago,” said Brocato, 19, of Bel Air, Md., a Marine Reservist training at Landstuhl.

Roever, 65, has spent the past decade traveling the globe to spread his message, “never lose hope.” In Vietnam, Roever was burned beyond recognition when a phosphorous grenade exploded in his hands. In the hospital, he attempted suicide by removing a tube that he thought kept him alive, Roever told the crowd.

“It was my best failure in life, when I pulled the wrong tube out,” Roever said. “I got hungry instead of dead.”

While crowds roared with laughter, Roever insists he’s not a joker. Everything he discusses is a human experience that he went through, he said.

“I take real life experiences and choose to look at them through the eyes of hope and laughter,” Roever said. “It’s all in how you look at life. It’s a choice.”

During late-July, Roever spoke to troops at events in U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg in Heidelberg and U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder. The speaking series was organized by Lisa Velez, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s suicide prevention program manager.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Soldiers with the summer months yielding the highest levels of attempts and completions,” Velez said, adding that collaborating with speakers like Roever is key to promoting awareness in military communities.

While at the garrison, Roever also met with injured service members at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

“I walk in their room and I’m on holy ground. It’s a hallowed sanctuary — I treat it like that. Because there lies a sacrifice for the cause of freedom,” Roever said. “I’ll do everything in my power to see them returned to the best life can give them and the best they can give to life.”

Brocato’s friend was just 18. He was also headed into the Marines, Brocato said. Instead, he fought with his girlfriend and committed suicide. Over the past weeks, Brocato felt himself in a slump over the loss of his friend.

After the crowds left, Brocato approached Roever, offering him a rubber wristband — a memorial token with his fallen friend’s name and motocross number. Roever slipped it on and embraced Brocato.

“My buddy lost hope,” Brocato told Roever. “But I want to thank you for giving me hope. I will never lose hope and never give up. It’s not an option.”