I had my dream assignment--flying with the famed 555TFS “Triple Nickel” MiG Killers in the Vietnam War. For a back-seater WSO it doesn’t get any better than this. But while I was flying daily combat missions in my Air Force F-4D Phantom II aircraft it first struck me as reality - I could be killed or captured on any of our missions over North Vietnam. Life did not seem so casual any longer. Outwardly I was composed and confident - we were MiG killers, known as the “Largest Distributor of MiG Parts in Southeast Asia” - but inwardly I began to realize that death would impose a finality that I did not like thinking about. Even worse than that realization was another: like others who fought in Vietnam I dreaded the thought of being captured by the incredibly brutal North Vietnamese. Some of my friends had already been killed or captured. In point of fact, when I first arrived overseas, my Squadron, the famed 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was losing a high number aircrew members during their tours of duty. Often I would wake up with the thought:
If I were to die today, I would be separated from God forever.
God's help arrived in the person of Billy Graham, in September of 1972, at Udorn Royal Thai AFB in Northeast Thailand. He was not the famous evangelist, but, true to his namesake, he was a committed Christian and a fellow air crewman. He insisted that I go with him to an officer's Bible study. As the military men introduced themselves, we realized that in this small group of five men, there was a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke, myself - John, and Billy Graham. It was in this setting that I first believed the good news of the scriptures that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is alive today. I was able to see that the Bible accurately portrays the facts concerning Jesus: His sinless life, the atonement of His Blood for my sins, His death on the cross, and His bodily resurrection from the grave.
As I prayed to ask forgiveness for my sins and invited Jesus to be Lord and Master of my life, I knew that if I died I would be in the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was He who said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the who believes has eternal life" (John 6:47). His promise of eternal life for me when I believed has never faded, and to this day I do not fear death.