Gary Beikerch was a Green Beret Army Medic during the siege of Dak Seang, April 1970 when he was severely wounded, three times. He was unable to walk, but this was the amazing thing. He was chief medic of this village. And he knew that he still had a job to do. Gary’s story of the relationships he built with the people of that town and how he has used those to help people today live a life of purpose is one you want to listen to. An inspiring story of a Medal of Honor winner retold in combination with a New York Times Bestselling author, Blaze of Light: The Inspiring True Story of Green Beret Medic by Gary Beikirch is a story for families who want to learn about a hero worth remembering. Listen in! You’ll be encouraged.
Podcast transcription is below.
Today’s Scripture Writing Challenge Verse
- 1 John 1:8-9
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Gary Beikirch is a former United States Army soldier who received the United States military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during the Vietnam War. A combat medic, Beikirch was awarded the medal for exposing himself to intense fire in order to rescue and treat the wounded, and for continuing to provide medical care despite his own serious wounds, during a battle at Dak Seang Camp.
Marcus Brotherton is a New York Times bestselling author and collaborative writer known for his books with high-profile public figures, humanitarians, inspirational leaders, and military personnel.
Hey everybody. Thanks for tuning in today. Today’s Friday, July 17th. This is episode number 960 of Off The Bench with Heidi St. John, it’s Meet My Friend Friday, and you guys know that I love to have people on the show who are thought leaders and patriots and leaders in the faith community. Today’s no different. My old friend and good friend, Marcus Brotherton, who is also a New York Times bestselling author is here with my new friend, Gary Beikirch. And we’re going to be talking about their new book, Blaze of Light. You guys, we’ve been talking a lot about the culture today and a lot about our nation, and this is going to be the topic of our conversation today. Stick around, I think you’re going to be encouraged.
So thanks for tuning in today. You guys there’s a lot going on in the culture right now. I appreciate you guys bearing with me as my speaking season seems to just be all over the map right now. Wanted to let you know if you’re looking for things as they cancel or are rescheduled, you can go to heidistjohn.com/events to find out where I am going to be. And as new things come up, we’ll put them there and we’ll put them out on social media. So I just want to encourage you to follow me there. Thanks for tuning in today. We’ve been really encouraged by the letters that we’re getting from you guys. I know that there’s a lot going on right now, and there are a lot of you who are feeling frustrated. I too, have been frustrated by what’s happening.
And that’s why I think you guys are going to be really encouraged by my guests today. You heard my friend Marcus Brotherton on the show with me a couple of months back. Marcus and I actually went to college together. So we have a long-standing relationship and he has grown into quite the thing, Marcus, you’re quite the thing. Marcus is a New York Times bestselling author, and he has partnered with Gary Beikirch on a new book and it’s called Blaze of Light. It’s an amazing story of a Green Beret Medic and that is Gary, right? And so he got the Medal of Honor and they’ve got an incredible story to tell. Gentlemen, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
[Marcus] Thanks, Heidi. Great to be here.
[Gary] Great to be here, Heidi. Thank you.
[Heidi] You’re welcome. So, Marcus, you have been tackling these kinds of stories for a while, and I’m curious as to how you became aware of Gary’s story and why you chose to partner with him so that ordinary people would have access to his incredible story.
[Marcus] Well, thanks Heidi. Anytime you hear Medal of Honor, that’s just a big spotlight that goes on right there. I mean the Medal of Honor, for people who don’t know it is the United States’ highest and most prestigious military decoration given for acts of valor. And it was created just after the civil war. I think only about 3,500 people have ever received it ever. I think in World War II, there was like 16 million troops fighting. I mean, that’s how rare this medal is. And so a Medal of Honor is just fantastic.
I was talking to a friend on the phone and he we were talking about sort of friends we have in common who were in the military and he told me about Gary’s story. And it’s one of those stories, I just immediately, when I heard it, I went, wow, that’s a story that has to be told. So I reached out to Gary via social media and fortunately he keeps a very robust presence. And the cool thing was that Gary and his wife, Lolly, had already been talking and praying about writing a book. So it was just a real great meeting of minds there.
[Heidi] It’s encouraging for me just to have you guys here, because as we talk about here on the podcast a lot, there is a vacuum in this country right now of young people, especially who understand the history of our nation and what our men and women in uniform have gone through to preserve and protect our freedom and why it’s worth protecting. And Gary, I guess I want to turn the conversation to you because the book, Blaze of Light, is dedicated to anyone who’s ever fought through a battle or sheltered in a cave. And this sounds like something you might know something about. So what do you mean by that?
[Gary] Whenever I had gone out in the past to speak at different events, and I’ve mentioned the Medal of Honor story and things like that, people were not really interested in a battle in a jungle in Vietnam. Well, once I mentioned being in a cave and living in a cave, their interest was really peaked. And the reason that I think that happened because they just wanted to know about the cave. They didn’t want to know about the Medal of Honor or the battle. But the reason is I think is that so many people can’t identify with battle in a jungle in Vietnam. They can identify with battles in life and the challenges that each of us face as we go through life, and more importantly, most people can identify with tiny shelter in a cave, trying to find some place to change the way they feel, try to find some place where they can feel safe a little bit.
I especially found that to be true in my 33 years working with middle school kids, but as a middle school counselor, and many times I would share with them life lessons that I had learned in the war and life lessons that I had learned while staying and living in a cave. Sharing these life lessons with them to help them as they face the battles that our young people face. So when you talk about a void or a vacuum being created in our generations, these generations, I can really identify with it because over the 33 years that I worked with young people, I could see a changing society, culture,, where more and more young people were no longer provided with absolutes to believe in. No longer did they have a compass to guide their behavior, their thoughts, their values.
And so I felt very fortunate to be able to work with middle school kids during these last 33 years, to be able to provide them some kind of accomplish, something to believe in, a reason to feel hope and a reason that they were created for a special purpose, because there are generations that are growing up that do not have that hope nor do not have a purpose.
[Heidi] Boy, this is a story that really, parents need to be sharing with their kids. And I know Marcus, you’ve been writing about the incredible, the greatest generation of men and women who have given their lives in the service of our country. And you’ve told incredible stories. What was it about Gary’s experience in Vietnam and his return to the US that made you say, hey, this story needs to be told.
[Marcus] So I had never done a story about Vietnam before. And Gary’s story is really amazing. He was a Green Beret Army Medic during the siege of Dak Seang, April 1970. 10,000 enemy soldiers sought to overrun a village that sheltered 12 Green Berets, 400 indigenous fighters and 2,300 women and children. So you can picture a small remote village in Vietnam’s central highland regions, that suddenly, and a complexity, surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers. And the enemy is unconcerned that the majority of people inside the camp, inside the village are women and children. So it’s an absolute shellacking. And during the siege, Gary is severely wounded, three times. He’s shot in the spine in the stomach. He’s paralyzed from the waist down. He’s unable to walk, but this is the amazing thing. He’s chief medic of this village. And he knows that he still has a job to do.
So he refused medical treatment for himself. And instead, still under heavy fire, he asked two medical helpers to carry him around the battlefield. So he’s being carried from one wounded person to another. And in that extreme state, he continued to treat the wounded, save lives, help bring people to safety. So that’s an amazing twist right there. And then as Gary alluded to, there’s a role, a big second twist to his story.
So after he came home from the war, he eventually healed in body. He was able to walk again, but his healing and soul took a much longer time. So he returned to university in the States where like so many of his generation of military personnel, he was spit upon. He’s harassed for being a Veteran. So the pressure mounds and Gary decides to drop out of society. He hikes far out into the Northern Appalachians where he chose to live for 18 months inside a cave. And it’s inside that cocoon of seclusion that Gary is enduring frigid winters and the snow and ice. He is bathing in streams. He sort of shouting to the walls about all the dismay inside of him, and then really cool things happen between him and the Lord when he’s inside that cave. And that’s where he really does big inner soul healing.
[Gary] Marcus mentioned those two indigenous people that helped me. One of those people was a 15-year-old Montagnard, and what you need to know about the Montagnard culture is that once a young person reaches the age of 12, they had to become a responsible member to that tribe. Each person at the age of 12 had to develop responsibilities and duties that they know they needed to do in order for that tribe to continue to live. So at 12 years old, people took on adult responsibilities, including fighting. We had a 12-year-old, that was an M60 machine gunner. I chose this one Montagnard boy named, Dale. He was 15 and our friendship grew very rapidly and very deeply. The comradery that we felt with one another was just a tremendous blessing.
I’ve often said that my story is not really a war story. It’s more of a love story. A love story about how a young Green Beret in the midst of the jungle in those primitive conditions can find a home and can find people to love. And part of that love story is my relationship with Dale. And Dale not only carried me after I had been shot, but he heard a rocket coming in. He laid me down, laid on top of me and he was killed protecting me. So here was a tremendous demonstration of love. One for another, that this young Montagnard boy shared with me.
And when I was in the cave, one of the things that I tried to reflect upon was, what was it about our relationship? What enabled Dale to love me so deeply and so sacrificially and I came to the conclusion that if this ability was in Dale, maybe other young people and the ability to lead a life of significance, to lead a life caring for others more than themselves. And so I decided to work in middle school with young people to try to instill in them the same values that Dale’s life brought me of loving someone more than yourself, about the idea of sacrifice, about the idea about being committed to something greater than yourself. And so that was the motivation that was with me every day that I worked with middle school.
[Heidi] Wow. That’s amazing. My mind’s going all over the place as I’m listening to you talk because we have such a vacuum. It breaks my heart, actually such a vacuum in our nation right now of adults who are shepherding and loving children. We’re watching, young people are not saving other people’s lives. They’re rioting in the streets, they’re burning their cities. They’re tearing down statues and monuments. It’s almost like we’ve lost our moral compass. And there’s so much to be learned from your story so much for, I would love to just see parents sit down and read this as a family. It seems like this would be amazing reading material for such a time as this. I can only assume Marcus that, as you’re interviewing Gary, you’re learning some things yourself. What are some of the takeaways that you got from being able to get to know this incredible American, this incredible human being?
[Marcus] Gary is just fun to talk with a lot. And it’s been a real honor to get to know him. Whenever you meet I think elite warriors or just people who have done amazing things. Gary is a Green Beret, for heaven’s sake. How many times per week do you meet a Green Beret?
[Marcus] So when Gary was training to become a Green Beret and in the book we talk about how is this, sort of, the most intense and physical and mental conditioning imaginable. And I think it was 175 weeks total, that it took for him to become that. The instructors say that their job is to make the recruits feel comfortable with the uncomfortable. And so he’s getting up at 2:00 AM or staying up all night and just sort of enduring a lot of yelling and screaming and rage, and then just physical conditioning.
And there was a lot of times during training where Gary felt that he could simply not go on. Whatever they’re asking him to do, he just couldn’t do anything more. He’s just physically depleted, mentally depleted. And so during those times he would tell himself, I don’t think I can go the distance if I think of the entire distance, but I’m pretty sure I can do one more of whatever they’re asking me to do. Like if they’re asking me to do, 250 pushups, well, I can do one more pushup and then he would do one more pushup and then he would do one more pushup. And then he would do one more.
Or I can’t run another 12 miles or whatever it is, but I can go another hundred yards and now I can go another hundred yards and now I can go another hundred yards. And I really liked those times where you’re just so ready to quit. But at those times, Gary has taught me to say, don’t quit. You can do one more. You can do one more day. You can do one more week. You can do one more, whatever it is, that’s been a great lesson to learn.
[Heidi] So Gary, you alluded to this earlier, but you said that there was a time when you came home from Vietnam, that you wanted to forget your experience. And when I was reading about your story, I couldn’t help but think of my dad who told me that he also wanted to forget not just Vietnam, but how he was treated in the country when he came home from Vietnam. And why is now the right time to remember, and the right time to have this particular story be told?
[Gary] When we released our book, we dedicated it to anyone who’s fought through a battle or sought shelter in a cave and it’s ironic that it was right released right in the midst of this COVID pandemic and little did we know that as a nation, we’d be fighting a grand battle with an unseen enemy, this virus. And that many of us would be finding shelter, seeking shelter, or in some cases mandated that we had to shelter in place, in our home, in a cave.
And so, we began to draw some parallels between the things that I had learned and what we were going through as a nation today. Some of the things that I learned, I think could be very, very appropriate for all of us, even today, because I learned for one thing that there’s a difference between surviving and living. When I went to that camp, I asked Dale, I said, “Dale, you got to teach me how to survive in the jungle because I’m afraid of snakes. I’m afraid of tigers.” And he laughed at me and he said, “I don’t want to teach you how to survive. I’m going to teach you how to live in the jungle.” He said, “…because the jungle provides us our way of life.”
He said, “I want to teach you how to not be afraid because being afraid, narrows your focus.” He said, “I’m going to teach you not to be afraid, because I want you to be able to see things in the jungle that can give you life.” And as we’re going through this pandemic, initially there was so much fear and I still hear so much fear and fear causes many of us to slip into a survival mode. And we tend to survive rather than just really live. And we’ve been given this tremendous gift of life and God wants us to do more than just survive. He wants us to live. There’s a way to live life. It comes from knowing God and knowing his plan. And that way is living for others, caring for others. And we see so much of the survival going on in societies where people hoarding toilet paper and all these other things.
But you also see little acts of people living, people giving, people calling on the shut-ins, seeing if there’s anything they can do. There’s a big difference between just surviving in life and living in life. And I’ve learned that and thought about that when I was in the cave. I also learned that forgetting is not getting better. I thought that if I could just forget, I would feel better.
If that would make me better, but the only way that I could forgive was to just shut down everything because memories and anger and hurt and guilt was a powerful emotion. And the way that you can best deal with them is to just shut down and don’t feel anything. But that’s not living anymore. That’s surviving because there’s no feeling. I’ve learned that forgetting is not getting better. For me, getting better was finding someone who would come into my cave, whether that’s a literal cave in New Hampshire or whether that’s a cave of isolation, a cave of alcohol, a cave of drugs, finding somebody that can come in and love me and support me, who will listen to me and show me that they care.
Someone who can give me a reason to hope, a reason, to have a wife and to want to come out of the cave and live. That’s what getting better is, not forgetting. And as a nation during this pandemic especially, I see so many people just trying to survive, but what my wife and I have tried to do during this quarantine is we’ve looked for opportunities to live, looking for opportunities where we can make a difference in the lives of maybe our neighbor or somebody that we need to grocery store. Forgetting and hiding and shutting down is not getting better. That’s just surviving. God wants us to live.
[Heidi] Well, I think you guys should take this message on the road. I mean really, just take the message on the road. Marcus, you guys could you could just start, get in your Pontiac and drive. I mean, Gary you’re in New York, right? So meet in the middle, I mean really, I feel like the message that you’re bringing is so important to hear. There are so many people hurting right now, really hurting, they’re hurting emotionally and you’re right about fear. I’ve been saying here for months now on the podcast just trying to remind listeners, listen God didn’t give you a spirit to fear, the Bible calls fear a spirit. And we can’t exist and we can’t live apart from the Holy Spirit, the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and we are called to not live under a spirit of darkness and a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
And man, if there was ever a message that the country needs to hear right now, this is definitely it. I’m intrigued, I’m actually, I’m feeling pretty honored right now, Gary, because I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that received the Medal of Honor. And I can only imagine what that was like for you. What does it mean to you to have received this incredible honor? I mean, Marcus, at the beginning of this interview explained why it’s so rare and it really is an honor just to even be talking with you and to hear your story— but what does it mean to you?
[Gary] To explain what it means, I’ll have to give you some background that when I went into the cave to forget, it was September 1973, and I had already become a Christian. So I had a basis of a faith, I had been a Christian for about a year. I knew God had forgiven me, but I couldn’t forgive myself yet. And I couldn’t get over the hate and the anger that I felt that everybody else had towards me. So I went to this cave to try to heal, to forget, but most importantly, I went into this cave to try to understand, “Okay, God, what do you think of me now? I’m your new child? What do you tell me as a child of God? What do I need in order to grow? What do I need to hear from you in order to heal?”
And so I’ve made a prayer, September of ‘73, said “If I can, God, I want to give everything in my life back to you because you gave me my life in Vietnam. I shouldn’t be alive. So I’m giving my whole life back to you, whatever you want from my life. That’s all I want nothing else.” I made that prayer in September of ‘73, two weeks later, I was notified I was being awarded. Two weeks after I said, “God, I’m all yours,” God gave me the Medal of Honor. So much for trying to forget about Vietnam, now I’m getting any medal for something that I’m trying to forget about, and that really sent me into some real soul searching. I had taken a Bible in with me and one of the verses that I found that really helped me was from Psalm 49:20. And that said, “Man is in honor, but understands not, is like a beast of parishes.”
So I said, “Okay, God, I guess you want me to understand a little bit more about what this medal means? What does honor mean, God? And He showed me in Jeremiah 9 “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, nor the rich man in his riches.” If you’re going to glory, Gary, glory in this that you knew me. And so I began to realize that this Medal of Honor is not about me, it’s not about anything that I did. I learned that the Medal of Honor is not really about any one person, although there are 69 men that wear that medal now, that medal to me is not about any one of them and any one of their acts on any particular one day. But that medal is about millions of men and women, who love this country, who are willing to go anywhere at any time to do anything because of this country.
The honor that comes with that medal is that it’s bigger than one person, it represents a different way of living, a different way of life. It says a message to all who see it, that you can live caring for others more than yourself. And personally, I realized that it was not about anything that I had done, but it was about God and what he had done for me because he gave me that medal. And so when I wear it, I wear it for all men and women who have served and whoever served and who continue to serve, but more importantly I wear it for God for His honor and what He has done.
[Heidi] As you’re talking, I can’t help it, you think back to growing up, I think you’re highlighting something that is sorely missing in the culture today and that is this idea of putting others before ourselves. So much of what we see right now is a selfish thing, it’s self protection even, self protectionism. And when I was growing up, we sang a little song at Sunday school. I’m just going to take you guys back with me. Okay? Just think back to the savages with me, we can do it. We sang a song called Jesus and Others and You, right? So when Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy. And we start off, J is for Jesus for he takes first place. O is for others we meet face to face. Y is for you and whatever you do, put others first and spell joy.
And really what I’m hearing in you, Gary, is that something that the Lord really showed you is the importance of taking your eyes off yourself and putting your eyes first on the Lord, Jesus and realizing that we’re here to bring Him glory. And how can we do it? And then how can we serve other people? And I mean, I’m not even kidding Marcus, take this guy on the road. You guys could change the nation with a message like that. It’s a message that is needed I think so badly right now. And I guess in the couple of minutes that we have left Gary, I guess I want to ask you what hope do you have? What hope do you have that as we come out of this, we’re going to learn something? When you look at the next generation and we talk a lot about it here at the podcast.
And I’ve had a lot of constitutional scholars and men and women who love this country. And they all agree that our freedom is just a whisper away from being taken from us, that this generation young people in particular. But if we say young people, my oldest child now is almost— I use the word child loosely— is almost 30 years old and she’s got children of her own. And so as we look this generation coming up, I think by and large, my generation really failed to teach the importance of liberty and the importance of freedom and why we should safeguard it. And I guess that’s kind of the last question I want to ask you today, Gary, is what do you hope that the next generation learns about freedom?
[Gary] One of the things that scared me more than anything else in the 33 years that I worked with was that I saw more and more kids growing up without a sense of hope, but if there was anything that enabled me to work with middle school kids for 33 years, is that I had a hope. I had a hope and a belief that my time there, my efforts of loving them would not be in vain. Since I’ve retired, I spent a lot of time going across the country and speaking with the young students in schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges, and one of the message that I tell them that I’m there is to share this message… I learned this in Vietnam. Dale, my 15 year old taught me this and that is to really live, humans almost die, but those who fight for it, life has a meaning to protect it will never know.
And I’m not talking about being in a uniform and dying physically, but there’s a way to live, to really live, and that’s almost dying. And Jesus talks about dying to yourself, I try to share with them that if you want to know what life is really about, if you want to experience all that life has to offer, if you want to really live, try dying to yourself, try living for others. And that’s not easy to die for yourself, so to those who fight for it, it’s going to be a battle because self dies pretty hard. But if you want to win that battle then fight for it, you will have an experience of life that others who are protected, those who do not want to care about somebody else more than anybody else, those people will never know what it means to really live.
They will not have a life of significance. So if you want to live, really live, die to yourself, continue to fight. And what you fight with are the values, things that are important to you, the value of caring for somebody else more than yourself, the value of sacrifice, the value of being committed. If you use those values in battling, you will have an experience in life that those who choose not to fight, those who choose to stay safe, stay in your comfort zone, they will never know what it means to really live and live a life of significance. That’s what I hope our book, that’s what I hope that my 33 years of working with middle school kids instilled in the students that I worked with. I want to really try to instill words of faith, words of hope, and words of love because that is where our futures and nation will lie. If we can instill those words of hope, faith, and love in the next generation.
[Heidi] It’s powerful. And I know you’re serving currently as the chaplain of the Medal of Honor Society, and so you’re far from being off the battlefield. The theme of this podcast is off the bench and onto the battlefield, just encouraging people to get off the sidelines of life and get onto the front lines. Especially those of us who know the Lord Jesus, and you have been in a tremendous encouragement to me. Marcus, you know how to pick them. I’ll tell you what my brother, it’s encouraging for me to watch what you’re doing. Marcus if people want to find this book and I hope that they will. I mean it sounds to me, maybe you guys can tell me if there’s anything… What are kind of an age appropriate, like a parent who was like, “I’m going to read, like we need to get back to family story hour,” is this a book that parents could read to their middle schoolers even? And where can they find it?
[Marcus] Bookstores are starting to open back up now and so it’s in any major bookstore, ask for it if you can’t see it. It’s on Amazon or on barnesandnoble.com, and also my website, marcusbrotherton.com. In terms of age appropriateness, parents you know your children best. I would recommend that parents read it first, there are some battles scenes that, they’re about battles so they’re graphic. So you know your child best, I would say probably for a 12 year old on up, wouldn’t you think Gary?
[Gary] We have 14 grandkids, Heidi, and we’ve given that book to every single one of them. They range in age from 24 all the way down to eight. I know our eight year old hasn’t read it, but all three of our grandchildren that are in middle school, they’ve read it and we’ve talked about it with them.
[Heidi] Well, gentlemen it’s truly been an honor. Gary, this is a great honor for me to be talking with you. I so appreciate your story and obviously your service to our country, but more than that, your testimony as an ambassador for the Lord Jesus. I just have this feeling that God’s looking at you right now and just smiling big. You’ve done an amazing thing with your life and I hope the message goes out far and wide. Marcus, thank you for picking up the story and for giving me a call to tell me about it. You’re welcome on the show anytime, you got my cell phone. I appreciate having you guys here, thank you so much for joining me.
[Gary] Thank you, Heidi.
[Marcus] Thank you, Heidi.
[Heidi] For more information on Marcus and Gary’s new book, Blaze of Light: The Inspiring True Story of Green Beret Medic by Gary Beikirch, you can find all that information in the show notes today, I’ll link back to it. We just want to encourage you guys if you have questions, you can reach out to me, heidistjohn.com/mailboxmonday, and I hope you guys will pick up Blaze of Light. And let’s get back to what really matters in this country and that is putting others before yourselves. You guys, you don’t just have to survive, God wants you to thrive. Thank you so much for tuning in today and I’ll see you back here tomorrow.