Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Justin Rozier’s father lost his life in Iraq on July 19, 2003, when he was just a few months old.

Army Lt. Jonathan David Rozier was only 25 when he perished due to a rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad.

The last time Lt. Rozier’s wife Jessica Johns spoke to him – a mere 12 hours before the incident – they had decided to return his 1999 Toyota Celica convertible car to the dealership in order to help pay for daycare.

“I didn’t want to keep chipping away at my savings to pay for a car that nobody was using. It was just sitting in my driveway,” Johns told NBC News.

After the sale, she largely forgot about the vehicle for 15 years.

In 2017, Justin Rozier turned 15 and was about to start driving lessons. While his mother went through paperwork one day at their home in Moore, Texas, she came across the car registration. That’s when she realized how special it would be if her son could learn to drive on his dad’s old car.

But where to start?

She recalled the story to NBC News:

“I wonder if this car is still out there? I was thinking I would go on a years-long search to find this car.”

Then, she decided to enlist the help of her Facebook friends.

In a Facebook post, she asked for help. That would give her more than a year to track the car down in time for Justin’s 16th birthday.

“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.

Of course, no one could have blamed her for giving it up at the time. But her friends helped launch a search. And to keep it a secret from Justin, she had to keep him off social media.

Fortunately, it took only a few days before she got a hit. After all, keeping a teen off social media for nearly a year was going to be nearly impossible!

It turned out the car was in Utah and the daughter of its owner contacted Johns after her post went viral. She warned that her dad may not want to sell the car, but she gave Johns his number.

“If I call and he doesn’t want to sell it then my hopes would be crushed,” Johns said. “It took me 12 hours to get the courage to call him.”

The owner needed to think about it, but that only took an hour.

“I think that your son will get more enjoyment out of having his dad’s car than I would,” Johns recalled him saying.

She was thrilled, but there was still the matter of buying and refurbishing the old car. Since social media had come to the rescue once, she decided to retest her luck.

Soon, an organization based in Utah called Follow the Flag contacted her about helping to fundraise the money to buy, fix, and ship the car to Justin for his birthday. They contacted 8 local businesses to help.

The gift was a success, and Justin was thrilled. In fact, while it was supposed to be a 16th birthday gift, it was located and refurbished so quickly that she got to give it to him for his 15th birthday.

“I was waiting for him, for it to click that’s dad’s car,” Johns told NBC News. “He starts looking at it, gets in, he looks so much like his dad.”