Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:48 am
On Christina Bixby's 40th birthday, she buried her husband, Army Capt. Dale Goetz, the first military chaplain to be killed in combat since the Vietnam War.
Two days before her 43rd birthday, she received a gift she could never have foreseen needing on that dark day - a 15-passenger van.
"I thought I was coming here for lunch," said a flabbergasted Christina on Sept. 7 as she stood next to the 2007 Chevy Express outside American Legion Post 38 in Fountain.
She was surrounded by a small army: her three children, her new husband, six of her seven stepchildren and members of five local veterans groups that banded together to orchestrate the surprise: the American Legion Post 38, the Veterans Motorcycle Club of Colorado Springs, Angels of America's Fallen, the Freedom Alliance and Bikers Against Child Abuse of Colorado Springs, members of which are primarily veterans.
Until that Saturday, Christina and her husband, Jon Bixby, had to take two cars everywhere they went.
"If I took the kids to the YMCA for swim lessons, I'd always have to ask for volunteers to stay at home," she told the crowd. "It's going to be nice to go someplace together. This is the best birthday present ever."
"It's like we're living in the last chapter of Job right now," said Jon, a former pastor who now buys and resells houses. "The first part is really tough, but the last part - he's really blessed."
Dale Goetz and four other Fort Carson soldiers were killed Aug. 30, 2010, by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Arghandab River Valley.
Jon's first wife, Amy, died of breast cancer in 2011. Nine months later, Christina and Jon were introduced by a mutual friend. They soon discovered that they may have crossed paths in college and that Christina had briefly met Amy at a women's conference.
Both were 41. Both had been married 16 years. Both had been told by their spouses to remarry, if anything happened, for the sake of the kids.
On Oct. 5, Christina and Jon did just that.
Two months ago, Air Force Staff Sgt. Dan Levindofske, a recruiter assigned to Peterson Air Force Base and member of the Veterans Motorcycle Club's Colorado Springs chapter, received a call from the owner of Countrywide Transportation.
The owner wanted to donate a nearly new 15-passenger van to the chapter, which often transports wounded veterans to a farm in Calhan for recreational activities.
The chapter could have put the van to good use. But Levindofske figured there was someone who needed it more.
When Levindofske learned about the Bixbys, he knew he'd found "the one."
"The fact that they had to take two vehicles to go to dinner was just unacceptable," Levindofske said. "This family was just too perfect for it."
Jon had "married into a family of a bunch of children who lost a dad in the war," Levindofske said. "He's going to have to deal with that. He supports all of the kids and loves them unconditionally. There's no separation. You can't tell whose kids are whose.
"I looked at them and said, 'That's a true family unit.'?"
If Dale Goetz could see Christina and their three kids now, with their newly expanded family and jumbo van to match, he would be thrilled. Christina is sure of it.
"If we were watching this happen to another couple, we would be ecstatic," she said. "We'd say, 'This is so cool, what just happened.' When others were blessed, we were blessed by seeing it. I know that's how we'd be, too."
Jon believes that Amy would be equally pleased.
"I'm sure she'd be tickled," he said. "One day in heaven we'll all get together again and talk about it and say, 'That was an interesting plan.'"