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Final Flight: The David Gordon story

By Marjorie Gordon as told to Kirk Noonan

Second Lt. David Gordon was a helicopter pilot in the United States Air Force and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He was killed while on duty. Following is the story of his life and death as told by his mother, Marjorie.

Second Lt. David Gordon

On May 29, 1986, my husband, Darrell, and I met at a suburban Seattle restaurant to have dinner after work. As soon as my gaze met Darrell’s I knew something was wrong. He told me he had just heard on the radio that a helicopter from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, where David was stationed, had crashed. The news shocked me, but I was not alarmed or even fearful that David was on board the helicopter. Nonetheless, we tried calling David at his home from the pay phone at the restaurant. There was no answer.

I didn’t think David would answer because I knew he would be at the base consoling those who were hurting. He had always been a good friend to his peers and always seemed to have an entourage of friends around him. I admired his zest for living and ability to make friends even when he was a child. I also admired his faith. In high school he was a Christian but he didn’t really talk about it that much. When he went to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., he became bolder about sharing Christ with others. After graduation, David and some of his friends from the Academy’s Wings of Blue Parachute team passed around a single journal. David’s last entry described his faith and why it was so important to him. He loved the Lord and his friends so much.

As we drove home from the restaurant I didn’t even consider it a possibility that our son might have been in the crash. Rather than worry about him I prayed the Lord would comfort the families of those who had died. Little did I know I was praying for myself.

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At home, Darrell called the base and talked to the commander of the helicopter squadron where David was a pilot. I kept praying, but never suspected what I heard next. The commander informed Darrell that David had been escorting a nuclear missile ground convoy when his helicopter crashed into a mountainside, killing him and four others. When I heard the news it was as if all the blood in my body drained to my feet. No words can describe my feelings of helplessness and grief.

Later that night an Air Force chaplain and another officer came to tell us that David had been killed. When they learned we already knew, they expressed surprise but spent time praying with us. I don’t remember what they said or prayed, but I know their prayers helped. We left for Rapid City the next morning.

It was several days before the Air Force released David’s body after a required autopsy performed during the investigation into the crash. At the mortuary we entered the room where David had been placed in a large, closed, silver casket that was draped with an American flag. I cried out, “Lord, You can raise this boy up. Please raise him up like You raised Lazarus.” I knew God had the power to answer that prayer. But David was not raised to life. Though I was devastated, I could feel God’s presence. I felt the love and prayers of Cindy, David’s wife of one year, and our family and our friends.

We buried David at the Sturgis National Cemetery. The Air Force honored him by flying helicopters overhead in a missing man formation and with a gun salute. Officers presented Cindy and Darrell and me with American flags. As I watched Cindy that day, I was amazed at her strength and courage.

Before David married Cindy, they promised each other that their relationship with Christ would be their singular priority and their relationship with each other would be second. Cindy was so strong. She wrapped herself in the promises of Romans 8:38: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).

During the following months there were times when I was angry. My faith never faltered; it was only challenged. I remember crying, “God, surely this is a mistake. What about the verse that says, ‘Have your delight in the Lord and He’ll give you the desires of your heart?’ David’s death was not the desire of my heart. He was only 25 years old and he loved You so much and loved his friends into Your kingdom.” I continued feeling it had all been a tragic mistake.

Yet, as I read the Scriptures and prayed, I began to realize that God was working on a bigger picture than I could see. The death of my son was not my delight or the desire of my heart, but one day I felt God was asking me, “What is the desire of your heart?” I told Him it was to have all my children with me in heaven. God assured me David was there. Now I never tell people I lost my son — I know where he is. Because David is in heaven with God and God is always with me, my son is never very far from me. That gives me great comfort.

There are many casualties in the military like David’s that don’t happen during battle. Every day, military personnel are risking their lives while training or carrying out other duties. When our country is at war, more lives are at risk. As Christians we need to pray continually for the safety of our military personnel, for encouragement for their families, and that the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit would be a part of their lives. The most important prayer we should be praying is for their salvation. There are so many who do not know Jesus as their Savior. They need Him desperately in order to face the reality of death and eternity. We are all appointed to die. Though the Air Force never found a reason for the crash that killed David, I have peace knowing he is in heaven with Jesus.

Marjorie Gordon lives in Auburn, Wash.

Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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