Operation Iraqi Freedom, the military action that kicked off the Iraq War, started March 20, 2003. Brave men and women headed halfway around the world tasked with defending freedom and fighting against terrorism.
2001 Texas A&M graduate Jonathan Rozier enlisted in the armed and was assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, of the 1st Armored Division, where he worked his way up to Lieutenant. He was deployed to Baghdad in the early months of the war from Fort Riley in Kansas.
The exemplary soldier would go on to be one of few honored with a Bronze Star for valor for “maneuvering his platoon of tanks directly in the line of fire to create a shield between a force of US Army foot soldiers and Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers at Al Hillel,” Jim O’Rourke, RVN US Army 1972-73 commented on the dedicated Fallen Heroes page. “There were no limits to his aspirations,” his father, David Rozier told Military Times. “He wanted to have a career in the military, clear through to retirement.”
Lt. Rozier would make a career out of his service, albeit a short one. He was killed on July 19, 2003 during an ambush while he was providing protection for a subsequent mission. His unit was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.
The fallen solider had just celebrated his 25th birthday. The attack would leave his wife, Jessica Johns, a widow and single mother of a 9-month-old.
The devastated mother was left with an additional painful decision. Her husband’s 1999 convertible Toyota Celica sat unused in the driveway, waiting for an owner that would never return. Meanwhile, the payments were eating at the young mother’s savings.
Toyota allowed Johns to forfeit the loan and return the car. She used the money to pay for Justin’s daycare and make ends meet.
Fast forward 14 years. Johns was searching for a birth certificate when she came across the car’s old registration. Flooded with memories, she came up with a bright — although far-fetched — idea.
Justin never got a chance to know his father, who was regarded by many as upstanding, dedicated, and loving. Johns set out to track down her late husband’s old car to give it to Justin for his 16th birthday.
Assuming that the project would take time, she gave herself a year and took to Facebook this past August with her story and intention. Intended as a surprise, Johns wasn’t sure how she would keep Justin off social media.
Her story caught like wildfire and was shared many times. It only took days before Johns was contacted with a promising lead.
A woman in Utah contacted Johns, saying that she believed the sought-after car was her father’s; she gave Johns his number, but warned that he may not want to sell.
“If I call and he doesn’t want to sell it then my hopes would be crushed,” Johns told NBC News. “It took me 12 hours to get the courage to call him.”
The Celica’s owner heard Johns’s story, but asked for some time to think. An hour later he called back and told Johns, “I think that your son will get more enjoyment out of having his dad’s car than I would.”
Elated, the ever-resourceful Johns connected with Follow the Flag, a non-profit organization out of Pleasant Grove, Utah that is dedicated to honoring the flag and celebrating patriotism. They jumped on the project, starting a GoFundMe page for the effort.
Funds were raised to purchase the car, get it tuned up, ship it back to Texas, extra gas money to get him started, and a big red bow to wrap the unlikely surprise. The page explained that any extra money would go to the Johns family.
“Imagine the feeling of holding the steering wheel of a car your late father once drove. A father you never knew. A father who died in the line of duty serving his country. What a priceless gift,” the GoFundMe page encourages donors.
In a little over a month, the funds were raised, the car was purchased, tuned, detailed, and shipped. It arrived with that big red bow in time for Justin’s 15th birthday.
Upon seeing the car, a stunned Justin looked to his mother for confirmation. “I was waiting for him, for it to click that’s dad’s car,” Johns recalled. “He starts looking at it, gets in, he looks so much like his dad.”
Sometimes, the sacrifice made by the families of our brave soldiers is tragic and ever-lasting. In these times of loss, the opportunity to reclaim anything that is connected to their legacy becomes priceless. Though largely uncredited, Jorge Cruz, the car’s former owner, is to be commended for seeing the importance of making that sale.
-Her husband was only 25 when he was killed in Baghdad. Faced with the realities of being a single mom, she was forced to return her husband’s new car to the dealership to save money.
15 years later, she came across the registration. With her son’s 16th birthday approaching, she hatched a plan to get it back.