SIOUX CITY -- A pair of giants in the life of the Rev. Tom LoVan died on Sunday. One, former Iowa Gov. Robert D. Ray, 89, welcomed thousands of Southeast Asians to Iowa in the 1970s, including 289 members of LoVan's extended Tai Dam family.
The other: Lt. Col. Lloyd Pippett, 93, a Sioux Cityan whom LoVan met 49 years ago as Pippett helped direct the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing of Sioux City in the Vietnam War.
LoVan presided over Pippett's funeral on Saturday at Morningside Lutheran Church, a church Pippett served as congregation president three times, at ages 62, 72 and 82.
"I was 8 or 9 years old, a little boy in 1969 when I met Lloyd Pippett," LoVan said. "I was at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos, where my parents worked. A U.S. general's daughter somehow showed up in Saigon and the general told the colonel (Pippett) to get her out of Saigon."
Pippett arranged for a flight into and out of Saigon. Once they had the general's daughter, they flew to the U.S. Embassy in Laos. LoVan and his brother met the helicopter as it landed.
"I was standing there watching this 18-year-old blonde girl get off the helicopter," LoVan said. "And then came Lloyd Pippett. Being at the Embassy, we were used to seeing Marines with M-16s. This was the first time I saw a lieutenant colonel dressed like a soldier. I remember his green uniform, his hat and the pistol he carried at his side."
Pippett extended his right hand, introducing himself to the boy.
"Lloyd shook my hand," said LoVan. "As an Asian boy, I had a weak handshake. Lloyd looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Shake hands like a man!'"
It was a line Pippett used throughout his life. I know, as my sons were told the same thing when they met Lloyd at the Moville (Iowa) Golf Course where he and my family played golf. Lloyd, a native of Moville, served the course as a volunteer for years, erecting TV stands and shelves, pouring cement, tending to flowers and more.
Seven years after their encounter on the helipad, LoVan and his family fled to Iowa, brought here by Gov. Ray, who saw the mission on moral, not political, terms, in the wake of Saigon's fall.
LoVan's immediate family settled in Marcus, where he graduated from high school, then matriculated to Morningside College. LoVan became a Lutheran minister and was serving in Storm Lake nearly three decades ago when I met him.
In 1997, Pippett and members of Morningside Lutheran Church called LoVan to become an associate pastor for their congregation in Sioux City. "I recognized Lloyd right away when I was called to come to Sioux City," LoVan said. "I told him we had met before."
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Pippett asked the pastor if he was the little boy at the U.S. Embassy in Laos. Said LoVan, "I told Lloyd I was that little boy. And I said, 'You scared the heck out of me!'"
The crowd assembled for Pippett's funeral laughed at the line and several others LoVan shared about his friend. LoVan said Pippett took him to lunch a couple of years ago before "Pip" moved to Houston to be close to his son, Clarence Pippett.
"Tom," LoVan recalled Pippett saying, "if I die, you bury me. There will be no Psalm 23. And, don't say any good things about me!"
LoVan begged forgiveness for sharing tales of Pippett's military, civilian and church leadership. He talked about the skill the former East High teacher demonstrated in building and renovating components of the church he loved.
LoVan celebrated the funeral of Pippett's first wife Violet, who died in 2002. He then played match-maker of sorts and celebrated the marriage of Pippett to his second wife, Ruby. He also officiated at Ruby's funeral in 2017.
Tom LoVan knew this day was coming, eventually. And so, on Saturday, he shared the laughter his friend, Lloyd, a two-time war veteran, brought to his life.
"He built for me a rack to display my clothing as I traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to explain our Southeast Asian Lutheran Ministry," LoVan said.
And when a trip to Hawaii for Lloyd and Ruby didn't come to fruition a few years ago, Lloyd took the money they'd set aside for the vacation and handed it to LoVan, giving him the go-ahead to use the funds to help build a church in Cambodia.
The church and the saving grace of a savior meant the world to an old soldier who did his share of praying while sleeping under a truck and going without a hot shower or hot meal for more than a month in Germany during World War II. He made it home from two wars and gave thanks for every day.
"Lloyd ordered Bibles for his men in Vietnam," LoVan said. "He read it cover to cover four or five times and wanted others to do so."
Pippett got the Bibles into Vietnam by having the boxes marked, "Medical supplies."
LoVan smiled as he considered the convergence in death of two forces in his life, men of strength and compassion who worked to better the lives of others. One served as governor; the other, as a teacher, an officer and a friend.
Said the Rev. Tom LoVan, "Those men, they had a great impact on my life."
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