On July 19, 2003, in the early days of the Iraq war, Army Lt. Jonathan D. Rozier of Katy, Texas was killed in an ambush while on patrol in Baghdad. He left behind his wife, Jessica, and a nine-month-old baby, Justin.
Jonathan's death meant that his wife had to make some tough decisions. To pay for daycare, she had to return her deceased husband's 1999 Toyota Celica back to the dealer, forfeiting the car loan.
"I didn't want to keep chipping away at my savings to pay for a car that nobody was using," she told NBC. "It was just sitting in my driveway."
She would soon forget about the car until August of 2017 when she was looking for a birth certificate and ran across its 2002 registration papers. Her son Justin, now 14, had his learner's permit and was turning 15 in three months. Jessica thought that if she was able to find his father's beloved old convertible, it'd be the perfect birthday gift.
"I wonder if this car is still out there? I was thinking I would go on a years-long search to find this car," Jessica said.
So she put out an appeal on Facebook to see if anyone could locate the car.
"It was Jon's car (1LT Jonathan Rozier, KIA Iraq 7-19-03) and when he died, I wasn't thinking ahead to when Justin (his son) would be driving 15 years later. If you facebookers could work your magic and help me find it, it would be an amazing present for his 16th birthday if it hasn't become a tin can by now," she wrote.
Fortunately, the car turned up just a few days later in Utah. The daughter of the car's owner said her dad may not want to sell it, but was open to having a conversation about the car.
"If I call and he doesn't want to sell it then my hopes would be crushed," Jessica said. "It took me 12 hours to get the courage to call him."
After some discussion, the owner, Jorge Cruz, decided to sell the car to Jessica. Now, the only problem was coming up with the cash to buy it to make some necessary upgrades so it would be safe for a teenager.
Jessica reached out to an organization dedicated to promoting patriotism called Follow The Flag for some fundraising help. The organization got the necessary funds together, bought the car, made some repairs, and had the car shipped to Texas for Justin's 15ht birthday.
"It's what we do, it's something we do in hopes of inspiring others," said Kyle Fox, the founder of Follow The Flag.
The car was presented to Justin at his birthday party and it was an emotional reunion, to say the least. When Justin got into the car, he was speechless.
"I was waiting for him, for it to click, that's dad's car," Jessica said. "He starts looking at it, gets in, he looks so much like his dad."
The reunion was just as important for Jessica. "I never got to see him come home," she told CBS Sunday Morning. "I think I needed that."
A veteran's car, and a son's keepsake www.youtube.com
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