Justin was just nine months old when his father was killed in Iraq. A few weeks ago his mom surprised him with a connection to his dad that left Justin speechless.

By Meghan Overdeep
November 08, 2017
Justin Rozier and his 15th birthday present car
Credit: Jessica Johns

Army Lt. Jonathan David Rozier was 25 years old when he was killed in Iraq in 2003. Back home in Texas, his wife, Jessica Johns and their nine-month-old son, Justin were forced to make difficult decisions as they faced life without him—including what to do with his beloved 1999 black Toyota Celica convertible.

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

So back to the dealer it went. Johns says she thought nothing of the car until more than a decade and a half later when she came across the car registration while looking for a birth certificate. The old piece of paper gave her an idea.

At that point, 15-year-old Justin already had his driver's permit, and planned to get a car when he turned 16 the following year. Johns said she imagined surprising him with his dad's old car on his birthday. "I was thinking I would go on a years-long search to find this car," Johns said.

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In August of 2016, Johns turned to Facebook for help. "Can someone please help me find this car? It's a 1999 Toyota Celica convertible," she wrote alongside photos of the old Celica. "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."

A few days later, Johns heard back from the daughter of the car's owner. She told Johns that she couldn't guarantee that her father, who lives in Utah, would be willing to part with the car, but she gave her his phone number and told her to give it a shot.

"It took me 12 hours to get the courage to call him," Johns recalled.

When she finally got him on the phone, he said he needed to think about it first.

An hour later he called her back. "I think that your son will get more enjoyment out of having his dad's car than I would," he told her.

"I just got really excited," she told NBC News.

Around the same time, Follow the Flag, a Utah-based group committed to promoting patriotism, heard about the story. Moved, they started a fundraiser to pay for the car, restore it, and transport it back to Texas in time for Justin's birthday this October.

The process took two months, and just a few weeks ago, it was finally presented to Justin at his birthday party. "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 one moment right there. I think I needed that." Johns told CBS News.

Johns said she won't ever forget the expression on Justin's face when he saw the car and then turned to her for confirmation.

"I was waiting for him, for it to click that's Dad's car," she said. "He starts looking at it, gets in. He looks so much like his dad."

Watch the reveal of the car captured by CBS News here.