“Who Could Measure the Size of His Heart?”
A true Army hero triumphed in his final battle and was welcomed into heaven by the outstretched arms of Christ. It is believed that he was shown immediately to the tenor section of the choir and that the angel Gabriel handed him a golden trumpet. Lt. Colonel David P. Riley (R) was promoted to Glory on Thursday, February 1 in San Diego, CA. Well over 700 friends and colleagues “celebrated his passion for life” with his family in a memorial service at the San Diego Citadel, Sunday afternoon, February 4.
Riley, a son of officer parents in the Eastern Territory, was awarded two Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in action and the Bronze Star for bravery while serving with the 2nd Infantry Division during the Korean conflict. Upon discharge he married his wife, Gladys Miller, and entered the Army’s Officers’ Training College in San Francisco. Commissioned in 1959, they served as officers for 36 years in important corps and administrative appointments and offered significant leadership as ARC Commander and in three divisional command responsibilities. He and his wife retired from active service just seven months ago.
Lt. Colonel Joe Noland, program secretary, who became a soldier under Riley in the Santa Ana corps, officiated at the service.
General and Mrs. Paul Rader faxed a message from International Headquarters which lauded Riley’s contributions to the Army and to God. “Who could measure the size of his heart?” Rader asked. “What a fighter! He couldn’t stop – always soldiered on. He was a winner and an inspiration with unfailing generosity. His memorial is evident in the thousands of lives he touched.”
Accompanied to the hospital early Thursday morning by his son, David, and his wife, Gladys, Riley had been told by his doctors that the operation, his third heart by-pass surgery, would be difficult and delicate. While waiting he burst into song on several occasions to the delight of startled on-lookers and also took the occasion to plan his funeral. It proceeded as he had directed.
Three vocalists whom he particularly enjoyed sang music by which Riley had been particularly blessed. Santa Ana Bandmaster Ed Freeman sang In This Beautiful Land; Torrance Songster Faye Mallett sang He Knows; and Lt. Colonel Doris Noland sang an old Army song with a Scottish melody: I’ve Seen His Face in Blessing. Following the message by his son, Pastor David W. Riley, she also sang His Eye is on the Sparrow, a song Riley himself had blessed audiences with on many occasions.
Three tributes were delivered by three old friends. Major Edwin Henderson (R) recalled his contributions as a builder – adding scores of Army facilities all over the territory. “I remember Dave as a friend, and my life is better because I knew him,” Henderson said.
Mr. Don Stillwell of San Jose described Riley as “Mr. Excitement. There was never a dull moment with him. He was always upbeat – a great motivator – boundless energy, yet tenderhearted and compassionate.”
Colonel Robert Tobin (R) “worked, sang, prayed, talked and re-made the Army together (with Riley) for 40 years. He always wanted the Army to be seen and recognized. He not only could build buildings, he could pay for them as well,” Tobin emphasized. He also paid tribute to Riley’s wife, Lt. Colonel Gladys Riley (R). “No man ever had a wife who gave more of herself – who worked by his side more diligently – who protected him and loved him more completely.” In describing Riley, Tobin stated: “No officer did more or sacrificed as much. The Kingdom of God is enriched today.” On the Holiness table, covered with a Promoted to Glory flag by which an honor guard was posted, were placed Riley’s picture, his Bible, his Army hat, his euphonium, and his baseball glove and softball. In his message, his son, David, gave both a moving tribute and a stirring challenge. He recalled his father’s commitment to God and to family – his passion for sport – his love for the Army, for music and for souls. “He lived for Christ. Let not your heart be troubled,” he called in voice with the resonance and power of his father. “There is no sting here. He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, his crown is secure.”
Band music was provided by the El Cajon band. The colors were posted by Riley’s daughter, Captain Sheryl Vacca, US Army, and his son, Lt. Douglas Riley, Salvation Army officer. Other family members present were David Riley’s wife, Donna and their three children; Sheryl’s husband Greg Vacca and their four children; Douglas’ wife, Lt. Colleen Riley and their twin sons; and daughter Terri Murphy and her three children. His brother-in-law, Dr. William Miller, read recent letters received by the family as well as tributes written by his wife, children and grandchildren. During a time of sharing Miller invited friends from the audience to recall events experienced together with Riley. A large number of his friends participated in this way.
A memorial fund in Lt. Colonel Riley’s name is being established through the El Cajon Corps, 1011 E. Main Street, El Cajon, CA 92020. The funds will be directed toward the camping ministry that he loved so well.
Messages of sympathy may be sent to Lt. Col.Gladys Riley (R) at 6818 El Banquero Pl., San Diego, CA 92119.