Dog tags bring message to soldier's friends

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 8:24 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 14 at 8:40 PM

ARLINGTON, Wash. -- It’s been a decade since they’ve all been together. Ten years that have seen a lot of good times, and some very hard.

"When we love people, it’s a risk," said Val Unverzagt.

This group of friends all took a risk when they met a young man named Adam Phillips at their church nearly 20 years ago.  He was very smart, did well in school and didn't drink or do drugs. By the time he was 14, however, his family life had fallen apart and he was homeless. The loving bunch from the church became his family.

"We just hit it off," said Eric Little. "There was a big group of guys. We were all growing up together."

Estranged from his parents and looking for his place in this world, Adam enlisted in the Army shortly after 9/11. He returned a different person, heavily medicated by the military with no desire to return to war.

"All that he had been through in his childhood and all he had seen in the war took a toll on him," said Unverzagt. 

It was a dark time, one they'll never forget.

"It feels like ten very short  years since then," said Little. "It seems like just yesterday we were all standing here."

In fact, 10 years ago almost to the day, they were, indeed, all standing here. At Adam’s funeral. He committed suicide while trying to get discharged from the Army. On Friday they gathered at the city cemetery in Arlington to remember their friend and to connect with him one more time.

Right around Veteran’s Day last year, Adam’s friend Jessica Kohler was visiting his grave and found a note placed by a city employee saying an airport worker in Denver had found Adam’s dog tags and contacted the cemetery.

"How random and how awesome at the same time," she said.

The cemetery couldn't locate Adam's biological family, so they went to the only other one he had ever known. On Friday, his extended family received those tags. One of them was inscribed with a Bible verse. "I will run and not be weary..." read Unverzagt aloud before breaking down in tears.

This woman who raised Adam as her own son believes it’s his way of saying he’s finally at peace.

"It says to me, keep going. Soldier on," she said.

These friends also believe there is a greater message to be delivered. It's one they think Adam would want sent to anyone who sees a homeless kid on the street, or comes across a veteran struggling to survive on the home front.

"It’s that people in this world that are hurting. They’re lonely," said Unverzagt. "We can’t not love them. We can’t not be family to people who don’t have families."

They all took a risk loving Adam Phillips, and despite the heartbreak, it’s a risk they would take all over again.

 
 

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