LaBelle - Robert Glossenger, retired military sergeant, now known as “Pastor Bob” at the Riverbend Motorcoach Resort in LaBelle has finally found David Martin; the man who saved his life.
Myself, together with Sheriff Steve Whidden of the Hendry County Sherifff’s Office met with Bob and David to hear their story.
In 1967, right out of high school, Bob joined the army and went to Vietnam: “I was supposed to be on a boat from California to Vietnam, unfortunately I missed the boat and ended up flying. So I got there ahead of my battalion not knowing anybody. We were stationed at a base called Cu Chi. That’s where I met David Martin, Dave was in the same company I was with,” Bob explains.
“Bob was kinda like my sponsor,” David goes on, “He showed me around and told me all the things that were going on. Imagine being an eighteen year old kid in the middle of a country halfway around the world, there is no McDonald’s or anything!” David says jokingly.
“Our company’s major objective was cutting down the trees and clearing the jungle,” Bob explains. “We used what they called “Rome Plows”, which essentially are bulldozers equipped with very sharp blades on the front that cleared all the trees out of its way. We did this so the Vietcong couldn’t hide in the jungle. What we didn’t know at the time was that they were all underground in tunnels. The bulldozers could only clear so much jungle so we started using Agent Orange, a chemical that they would spray from helicopters to kill all the trees and foliage. Later we found out that Agent Orange caused major health issues for us, our children and our grandchildren.”
“One of our main missions was Operation Catcher’s Mitt; we were clearing out a place called Ho Bo Woods when the plow fell into a hole, which turned out to be an underground Vietcong hospital. We ended up capturing a lot of them and confiscating ammunition and weapons,” says Bob.
“The Vietcong would try to hit our Rome Plows with RPG’s all the time. At one point our battalion got attacked. We were in a firefight when Dave, being a lot taller than I am, heard an RPG coming in. He picked me up, threw me in a hole and jumped on top of me to cover me with his body. In doing so, he saved my life. Because the big pieces of shrapnel that flew over our heads definitely would have killed us. That’s why I am a walking miracle, we both are,” Bob says.
David continues: “There was just so much confusion; me and Bob were running back towards the bunker, Bob got hit and fell, so I grabbed him and jumped on top of him in a gully so we could get some protection. I think we saved each other’s lives back then. After two years of that stuff, I don’t think anybody can walk away sane. Altough we were trained, we were never prepared for anything like that,” David says visibly distressed.
Coming home was the hardest part for Bob: “When we were in the Hobo Woods, me and another guy got lost, we were missing in the jungle for two weeks. My parents got a letter saying that I was MIA and that pushed my dad over the edge; he lost his mind. They told me that I had to go home because something happened to my father. So I went on a plane home that was filled with G.I.’s. As soon as we hit the ground in California, people were kissing the floor and singing ‘God Bless America!’. I was in the back of the aircraft and heard what I thought were firecrackers. Come to find out, the first soldier that stepped out of the plane got shot and killed instantly by a hippie. He served two tours in Vietnam and didn’t get a scratch on him...”
Eventually, after taking a bus and coincidentally hitching a ride from an army recruiting officer who gave him clean clothes, Bob got to his dads workplace: “I stood there and tried to get his attention, after a while he finally came over to me and said, ‘Can I help you?’ He didn’t recognize me because I had lost so much weight. He gave me the keys to his car and said, ‘When I clock out I’ll be home, go see your mom.’ So I drove home and knocked on the door, my mom opened it and said, ‘How can I help you sir?’ Both my parents did not recognize me, they said it looked like I had gained twenty years on my life,” says Bob.
Apparently, after Bobs father was deemed mentally unstable, he was the only surviving son left to carry on the family name. The army has a “Sole Survivor Policy” which protects the last son to carry on the family name, that’s why Glossenger was sent home.
After serving in the army for twenty years, Glossenger went on to became a pastor and started looking for the man that had saved his life and rekindled his love for God: “Although I grew up in a fine Christian home, God was not on my mind or even in my heart, I could care less. But at 25 I turned my life around and finally ended up being a pastor.”
“The first thing I would say to every church I ever pastored was that I used to have a very bad drug problem growing up, and it always caught them off guard, like ‘oh no we hired a drug addict!’ And then I would go on: Well, yes because my mom and dad drug me to church Sunday morning, drug me to church Sunday night, drug me to church Wednesday night,” Bob says with a smile on his face.
“I tried my best to find Dave after all these years, and let me tell you, there are a lot of David Martins in the United States,” Bob says jokingly. “I went trough the VA, through the army and through the phone book. Eventually I got a call back from Dave saying, ‘I understand you’re looking for me,’ we talked and he flew over here a few days ago to reacquaint ourselves and to tell our story.
Sheriff Steve Whidden of the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office showed his appreciation to Bob Glossenger and David Martin by awarding both of them a “Certificate of Appreciation” in recognition of their military service and the maintaining of the security and freedom of the United States Of America.