Fallen Soldier’s Wife Goes On A Mission To Track Down Her Late Husband’s Prized Possession

There’s always a story behind someone’s restored car. Someone might want to revive a 1964 Ford Mustang because their grandparents drove one. Another gearhead could spend years working on a beautiful ’63 Buick Riviera because they saw it in a magazine once and always dreamed of driving the beautifully lined car. These vehicles are iconic. But what about someone who would do anything to track down a seemingly ordinary sedan?
This wasn’t just any used car for Jessica Johns, as it had a very special meaning. With a big family milestone approaching, she knew this vehicle would make the occasion absolutely perfect. But as she went to great lengths to bring the car to her own driveway, she began to wonder if it hadn’t already been taken to the scrap yard.
Jessica was determined to get Justin something extra special for his 15th birthday. He’d be learning how to drive soon, and she wanted him to have the perfect car for him to learn with — a Toyota Celica. But Jessica knew that only one model would do.
See, Jonathan Rozier was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. army. On July 19, 2003, he was killed by an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad. He was only 25. At the time, Jessica was a young widow with a nine-month-old.
Jessica Johns
When her husband was killed in action, Jessica needed money and had to sell her late husband’s vehicle. She sold it back to the dealership because she didn’t want to pay for a car sitting in the driveway.
Wikimedia Commons
She never realized that 15 years later she would be desperately tracking down the convertible. Not that it would have mattered at the time anyway. Jessica was now a single parent and a widow — she had larger worries.
Jessica Johns, Facebook
Later, Justin loved anything that had to do with his dad, so Jessica hoped the car would be the perfect gift. “I know that he wishes his dad was here … I feel like this is something that would connect him,” Jessica said.
Jessica Johns
She had the car’s VIN number (found on old registration papers), but not much else. Obviously, combing through used car lots would be a futile exercise. She thought it might take years to find the vehicle, but knew she had to start somewhere. She looked to Facebook.
Columbia Pictures
Jessica put out this call as a status, “Can someone please help me find this car? 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,” Jessica said.
Jessica Johns, Facebook
When Jessica shared her post, she had no idea if the car even existed. The convertible was older than her teenage son; it may not have survived over the years. But, she knew she had to try for Justin.
Jessica Johns, Facebook
Jessica thought she might have to wait for years to find her late husband’s car, but instead she only had to wait about a week. Her post went viral, and thousands of strangers shared and reshared it!
A stranger, who was the daughter of the vehicle’s current owner, helped Jessica find the Toyota in Utah. The Good Samaritan was concerned that her dad might not be willing to part with his car, but encouraged Jessica to tell him her story.
Now Jessica knew where the car was and built up as much bravery as she could — she thought back to the courage of Justin’s father — before giving the current owner a call. He needed some time to think about the sale before committing to anything.
Jessica Johns / Facebook
Luckily, Jessica didn’t have to wait too long. About an hour after they hung up, he called Jessica back. He was sympathetic and agreed to sell her the car. “I think that your son will get more enjoyment out of having his dad’s car than I would,” he said.
The car itself was in rough condition, but surprisingly it was still salvageable. The Celica had spent more than 15 years on the road and in that time, it never had a major accident or big mechanical failure.
Follow The Flag
It’s almost as if the convertible was waiting for Jessica to find it again. Though it wasn’t a junker, it still needed some major restorations to get in back in showroom shape again.
Robins Air Force Base
Around then, Follow the Flag, a veterans’ organization from Utah, got in contact with Jessica. They wanted to help her purchase the car and restore it to its former 1999 glory. Follow the Flag started a fundraiser to get the money.
On the page, founder Kyle Fox wrote, “Imagine the feeling of holding the steering wheel of a car your late father once drove. A father you never knew. A father who died in the line of duty serving his country. What a priceless gift.”
Facebook / Jessica Johns
Follow the Flag’s mission was a major success! Jessica’s story touched the heart of thousands, and the group raised enough money to cover both the car and its restoration. Two months later, the car was ready.
Malmstrom Air Force Base
Kyle drove the car from Utah to all the way to Texas, where Jessica was eagerly waiting to surprise her son at his 15th birthday party. Justin was overcome with emotion when he realized what his mom did for him.
And so was Jessica. “It’s a link to the past for him. It’s a big thing for me too. I never got to see him come home. So that just one moment right there was — I think I needed that,” she said.
Jessica Johns, Facebook
After all this work, Jessica said she’d never forget how her son looked when he realized that he’d be driving his dad’s old car. He was closer to his father than ever. It is amazing how the right vehicle can make a driver feel complete.
Kyle Cropsey of Lindenhurst, New York always appreciated the beach lifestyle. He was constantly on the lookout for one missing piece that would complete his look…
YouTube / CBS New York
Back in 2010, Kyle hit the waves at Rockaway Beach, one of his usual spots. But when he took a breather, he finally spotted the treasure he’d been searching for his entire life.
Flickr / Shinya Suzuki
It was his dream car: a 1971 Volkswagen Type 2, also known as a ‘minibus’. It was a legendary vehicle, and quite rare — Volkswagen stopped making them years ago!
Even though he was just sixteen, Kyle had a passion for automobiles and vintage car culture. Now that he was of driving age, he wanted nothing more than to someday get behind the wheel of a Type 2.
He quickly jotted down a note, stating his interest in buying the minibus if it ever went up for sale. Kyle slipped it through a gap in the window. Rather than landing on the seat, however, it glided to the floor.
Of course, Kyle knew that he’d probably never hear anything back from the van’s owners, even if they found the note. As a consolation prize, he took a photo of himself with the car.
YouTube / CBS New York
Eight years passed by. Kyle unsuccessfully contacted dozens of other Type 2 owners, and he even bought a similar van. But it just wasn’t the same. He needed the real thing!
Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, Cris Mead was busy getting his recently deceased father’s affairs in order. While going through some old things, Cris opened up a book and a crumpled note slid out.
ABC RN/Jeremy Story Carter
It was the same note that Kyle had written eight years ago on Rockaway Beach! Cris figured that his dad, Cornelius Mead, must have found it inside his van, placed it inside the book, and forgotten about it.
So what was Cris to do? The minibus was his father’s prize possession, something that he probably loved as much as his children. He was so attached to it that he even named it Matilda.
He and Matilda went on adventures and drove across the country many times over. Cornelius spent more nights than he could count sleeping in the back of the minibus.
Cornelius put so many miles on Matilda that the odometer ran out of digits to track its progress. Now that’s a lot of zeroes!
Fortunately, Cornelius put a lot of money into the vehicle to keep it in decent shape. The engine and transmission still worked like a charm. The van deserved to hit the road again.
Cris, who had no use for the Volkswagen, found a potential buyer with this note. But would Kyle still want the van after all these years? Would he even have the same phone number?
Cris managed to reach Kyle, who was floored by his dream car finally becoming available. Cris figured with the right buyer, it could fetch up $1,500. However, Kyle worked as a teacher and had limited funds. Would they be able to strike a deal?
They did because Cris gave Kyle the minibus for free! He figured that the best way to honor his dad was to pass on Matilda to someone who would value the van as much as Cornelius did.
Kyle felt overjoyed and said that only fate could have brought the Volkswagen back to him after all that time. He celebrated his new ride by decking it out with a fresh coat of paint.
Matilda is the perfect ride for Kyle, as he’s able to transport all his friends and their gear on surf outings. Plus, they are definitely riding in style.
Flickr / allisonhasabox
Kyle still keeps in touch with Cris about the minibus’ travels. Touched by this generosity, he also hopes to pay forward that same type of kindness someday.
He knows better than anyone that there’s nothing like getting behind the wheel of your dream car to put a big smile on your face! Especially when you have no idea it’s coming. Sometimes, new cars can come from the most unlikely sources.
YouTube / Charlie Rockey Jabaley
In early 2019, Kayla Cooper was in a tight spot. Overworked and underappreciated, the San Diego resident had to make an important purchase. Though, to be honest, she wasn’t quite sure if she could pull it off.
Kayla Cooper
Earlier that week, her rust bucket of a car broke down for good. Kayla had to find a new ride, and she had no time to lose. Her entire career depended on her getting around on her own.
Kayla was studying nursing at San Diego City College. The coursework demanded much of her, though she knew in the long-run it would provide her with the stability she always craved. For the time being, she had to push herself hard just to make ends meet.
Miami Dade College
On top of school, Kayla worked two part-time jobs. She pulled shifts as a cashier at 7-eleven, and she was a parking lot attendant. In fact, one of the main reasons the parking company hired her was because she could get there in her own car.
Without a new set of wheels, Kayla’s entire life plan was in jeopardy. After borrowing a car to make her way out to Auto City in El Cajon, the aspiring nurse started scanning the lot for a deal.
Auto City
However, as Kayla passed price tag after price tag, she realized the “incredible bargains” weren’t so incredible: not one car came close to her budget! Still, she kept her cool and went on searching.
Meanwhile, family man and engineer Dan Laguardia pulled into Auto City with some business of his own. Luckily, he wasn’t in the same dire straits as Kayla, so he didn’t expect to get caught up in any life-changing event.
Dan Laguardia
In fact, Dan was just looking to make a few bucks. He had a 2005 Scion that his family no longer needed, so he figured he would shop it around some local dealerships and see what kind of price it could fetch.
Dan could tell that his scion piqued the Auto City dealer’s interest. Ready to close the deal, the two men stepped into the sales office, but a nearby conversation distracted Dan from his paperwork.
ABC Action News
Kayla was seated at the next desk over, and Dan saw that she was shaking and on the verge of tears. Apparently, she’d scoured the entire car lot and hadn’t found a single vehicle she could afford.
She was trying to negotiate an arrangement with one of the salesmen, but to no avail. The salesman asked if Kayla had a family member or close friend who could perhaps help her out with the down payment. She shook her head.
ABC Action News
Dan watched the entire scene play out, and he really wanted to help Kayla. He, too, remembered what it was like to be young and struggling. Before he could act, however, Kayla left the dealership, humiliated.
Turning his attention back to his Scion, Dan just couldn’t bring himself to fill out the paperwork. Was it really worth making a little money just so some car dealer could jack up the price and sell it for a fortune?
TriStar Pictures
Dan always reminded his family, “Life has a way of making things even.” Seeing Kayla rush out of the office, he realized he had a perfect opportunity to live out his philosophy. Dan asked the salesman if he could borrow their phone.
Facebook / Dan Laguardia
Already a few miles away from Auto City, Kayla jumped when her phone rang. It was coming from the dealership, and they asked her to come back. They had one more option for her to check out.
As Kayla cautiously made her way back to Auto City, Dan stepped forward to introduce himself. He apologized for eavesdropping on her conversation earlier but said he might have a solution. Dan pointed to his used Scion.
Then, Dan handed Kayla the car keys! For a moment, the nursing student was too dumbstruck to react. She took the keys in her hand and asked how much Dan was selling the car for.
With a smile, Dan said he wouldn’t accept a dime for the Scion. It was Kayla’s now. She embraced the stranger, who then walked her over to her new set of wheels. The entire Auto City stopped to watch her take it for a spin.
ABC Action News
Kayla couldn’t have asked for anything more. “It’s been the biggest blessing of my life. I hope and pray that someday I can do the same big gesture that he did,” she explained. And if Kayla ever doubted that acts of kindness paid off down the road, the experience of one Idaho teenager would surely convince her.
Social media is an essential part of modern communication. But when 18-year-old Tyrel Wolfe received an unusual friend request on Facebook one afternoon, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
The request was from a young Filipino woman named Joana Marchan, and Tyrel was certain that they’d never met, let alone even been in the same country. Believing it to be just another scam, Tyrel declined the invitation.
Several years passed, and the strange friend request became a distant memory. He wasn’t much for Facebook anymore, but while casually checking his profile one day he noticed a new request in his inbox. The sender? Joana Marchan.
Tyrel’s interest was piqued, but his parents, wary of the type of people you find online, were understandably worried about this interest in their son. Still, Tyrel couldn’t resist getting to the bottom of this mystery. He opened the request and clicked “Confirm.”
Tyrel messaged the young woman, whose response only made things even more unclear: “you know about the Samaritan’s purse?” Tyrel was dumbfounded. What could this possibly mean? Was it some sort of code? Then, all at once, it hit him.
Samaritan’s Purse was a non-profit through which a seven-year-old Tyrel had donated a shoebox full of gifts as part of a charity program called Operation Christmas Child. But why, 11 years later, was this stranger from the Philippines contacting him about this?
Then, Joana came clean: it was she that had received Tyrel’s shoebox all those years ago! Tyrel was blown away by the news, but even so, he was still skeptical of the young woman’s motivations. After all, how was he to know if “Joana” was really who she said she was?
Tyrel questioned Joana about the contents of his gift, but she was unable to recall anything specific about the shoebox. He was ready to write her off, but at the last minute, Joana brought up one key item that proved she was telling the truth.
In the original shoebox, Tyrel had included a picture of himself. Joana recalled the photo in perfect detail, describing his “cute cowboy.” Without a doubt, Joana was exactly who she said she was — and the story of she and Tyrel was only just beginning.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
Though most would go their separate ways after a one-off encounter like this, Tyrel and Joana stayed in touch and soon discovered they shared many of the same interests. Eventually, the pair were talking every day, and their chats blossomed into a friendship.
Over the next year and a half, Tyrel began saving up in the hope of visiting Joana after he graduated high school. As soon as he’d met his goal, he messaged Joana and immediately booked the next flight to the Philippines.
Business Traveler
Long plane rides are rough on everyone, but being that Tyrel had never left the country alone before, the 14-hour trip from Idaho to the Philippines was especially tough. But no matter how difficult the journey, it was all worth it for Tyrel when he finally arrived.
What was meant to be a short visit for Tyrel became a month-long stay as he and Joana discovered that their connection was deeper and more real than they could’ve ever imagined. It was clear that the Facebook friends were becoming something much more.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
Unfortunately, Tyrel had to say goodbye to Joana, but he knew in his heart that he couldn’t stay away for long. Putting in extra hours of part-time work between his college classes, Tyrel scrounged up enough money to make another trip back to the Philippines.
His second trip to see Joana was even better than the first, and it wasn’t long before the two had fallen in love. After learning a good amount of Tagalog – the native language of the Philippines – Tyrel approached Joana’s father to ask for her hand in marriage.
Joana’s father agreed in a heartbeat, but her mother, fearing the couple was moving fast, was hesitant to give her blessing. Tyrel was heartbroken, but the young man was unwilling to leave the Philippines without the woman he loved by his side.
In a last-ditch effort, Tyrel convinced his father to fly in from Idaho to meet Joana and hopefully ease the tensions between him and her family. After several weeks of discussions, Tyrel and his father finally persuaded Joana’s mother to agree.
In October of 2014, just five months after their engagement, the couple wed in a simple ceremony at Tyrel’s parents’ ranch. In lieu of wedding gifts, the newlyweds made an unusual request that brought their unconventional love story full circle.
Tyrel Wolfe / Facebook
Tyrel and Joana asked that each guest bring a shoebox of gifts to be donated to none other than Samaritan’s Purse! They also asked their guests to include a note about Tyrel and Joana’s story in each box to show how far one small act of kindness can go.
San Ynez Valley Star
After their wedding, Joana agreed to leave her home in the Philippines behind in favor of small-town life with Tyrel in Idaho. Their quiet country home was soon filled with the pitter patter of tiny feet, as not long after Joana gave birth to, Harlann Jun Wolfe.
Marvin Quemado / Facebook
Even with lives made busy by work and parenting, Tyrel and Joana still make it a tradition to deliver shoe boxes. You never know what kind of good can come from a shoe box.

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