Waco, Texas — Donna Parker began the journey to find the owner of Army uniforms she found at the bottom of a dumpster more than two years ago.
Finding the owner and answers to her questions — "Why are they in the trash?" — became an obsession, she said.
But all she had to go on was the common last name, McKenzie. Parker researched, posted on social media and even set up tables at festivals around her home in Lexington, Kentucky, hoping someone might know who the uniforms belonged to. Eventually, she did find the full name.
"And when I did, his obituary was the first thing that came up," Parker said. "And it hit me like it would a family member."
They belonged to Sergeant Keith McKenzie, who survived two deployments to Afghanistan. He took his own life in 2018 after he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and amid a crumbling marriage. His car had been repossessed, which is how the uniforms ended up in the dumpster.
It wasn't at all the answer Parker was hoping to find, but it made returning the uniforms more important than ever.
"Somebody may have wanted them," Parker said.
She could have never guessed how much they were wanted.
A thousand miles away in Waco, Texas, Keith McKenzie, Jr., still feels some bitterness toward his father. But his father's military service is part of his dad that he holds onto dearly — and literally.
"I just sit there and hold the dog tags," he said. "For a good while I never took them off, since that's kind of all we had."
That was all he had, until his mother, Crystal, received a phone call from a stranger.
"She answered a prayer that I didn't know I was praying for — some faith that there's people out there that care," Crystal said.
Parker set out to return the uniforms, but what she really returned to this family was hope.
"I don't think you understand how much this really means to all of us," Keith told her.
Service members and veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide and those who know a service member or veteran in crisis can call the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
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