Once a Sudanese "lost boy" and now a soldier in the U.S. Army, David Moses will tell his story in front of thousands of veterans Monday, sharing the stage with Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Soft-spoken and humble, the Weber State University graduate said in a recent phone interview that his first thought when he was invited to speak at the prestigious Memorial Day observance was, "Are you sure?"
But his trajectory from a boy essentially orphaned by war to a man who has done two tours of duty in Iraq attracted the attention of Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Scruggs first heard about Moses when the soldier was training Iraqi Army and National Police units.
Moses' first war took place when he was a child in southern Sudan: a civil war between the Muslim north and Christian south that dragged on for two decades. Although many of his young friends joined the Sudan People's Liberation Army, becoming child soldiers, Moses headed to northern Sudan at age 13 to work for the International Red Cross.
"If you see people being arrested falsely, being intimidated, you can't just stay on the sideline and watch," he told the Deseret News in 2004 about that time in his life.
Not long after moving north, Moses himself was arrested, thrown in jail and tortured. He was able to escape, walking across Sudan like thousands of other parentless "lost boys," eventually ending up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Moses remembers nights spent in a makeshift shelter made of corn sacks printed with the American flag. He spent hours staring at the sacks, he says, thinking about America "as a place of hope."
He finally arrived, coatless, in the U.S. at 17, on a freezing winter day in Sioux Falls, S.D. His first job was in a chilly meat-packing plant, hoisting dead pigs. Eventually he ended up at the Job Corps in Utah, got his high school equivalency degree, went to Weber State University, joined the ROTC and was named a commencement speaker. In 2002 he took two oaths: as an American citizen and a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
He has not seen his parents since he traveled to northern Sudan at age 13. Occasionally he is able to talk to them by phone, but even now, he says, he's worried that any other contact might jeopardize his family. In America, his surrogate parents have been Howard and Wanda Berkes of Salt Lake City. Howard Berkes, a correspondent for National Public Radio, will introduce Moses at Monday's ceremonies.
"I like being a soldier," Moses says. "I like the teamwork, the camaraderie with fellow soldiers, and the job itself."At the heart of his service, he says, is "gratitude for all the opportunities and freedom America has given me."