Tammy Sebock was 19 and seven months pregnant.
Her boyfriend, John Philburn, two years older, was moving with his family from western Pennsylvania to Arizona, to make a better life.
They wanted to be together.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
John Philburn and his fiancee, Tammy Sebock, are together after decades apart.
She had been dating the mischievous, outgoing, spontaneous - and protective - guy for a year, riding bikes and hiking in the Butler area.
But Sebock's father didn't like Philburn.
Her family threatened to cut ties with her, if she joined him.
And Philburn's family situation out west was unstable.
So she made "a hard choice."
She was a kid having a baby, and she needed support.
She stayed in Butler.
A couple years later, Philburn went into the Army and made it a career.
It didn't turn out to be easy.
He broke his elbow in Korea in the mid-1990s.
He developed chronic back pain from the wear and tear of lugging equipment.
He grew anxious in the aftermath of 9/11, when he didn't get called to help in the New York City disaster area, despite being stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y.
He developed post traumatic stress syndrome from service in Iraq - where he was in the vicinity when an improvised explosive device went off, when small arms fire broke out at a gate, when mortar rounds were fired at forward bases and when vehicles transported bodies of enemy soldiers.
He had surgery to fuse two neck vertebrae in 2007 and later to fuse the vertebrae above and below.
A machine gun blew up, damaging his knee, in California in 2008.
Sebock married in 1994, continued living in the Butler area, worked on and off at a grocery store and Walmart and bore a son, Dakota, who's now 16.
There were good times and bad with that first husband, but financial problems, trust issues, his long shifts at work and resultant tiredness at home helped break up that marriage four years ago.
Philburn married three times.
During those years, he fathered a daughter, Sandy, now 25; a son Tylar, 21; and a daughter, Katilian, 13.
Sebock remained in his thoughts, just as Philburn remained in hers.
It helped that he was paying child support, beginning in 1994, after a domestic relations tracked him down.
That financial connection continued until their daughter, Christina, got pregnant at 17 and wanted to marry.
At that point, Sebock got in touch to tell Philburn that he no longer needed to pay.
The breaking of the financial connection led, eventually, to restoration of the romantic one.
It didn't happen right away.
It wasn't until 2010 that Philburn got a medical discharge from the Army, which, despite the hardships, he'd loved.
"I wouldn't trade anything," he said.
He loved the soldiers he was responsible for as a non-commissioned officer, loved the respect that went both ways, loved when, after the machine gun incident, soldiers cared enough to say they wished it had been them - and he could tell them no, if it had to happen, it was better it happened the way it did.
But the first stop he made after discharge was to visit Christina.
Not long afterward, on Labor Day weekend, he linked up with Sebock, at Christina's house in Saxonburg, for a barbecue.
By then, both he and Sebock were single again.
"We owed it to ourselves to see where it would go," Sebock said.
Philburn had thought that wouldn't be possible. "All that pain and mental problems, I didn't think anybody would take me," he said.
"I'm damaged goods," he told her.
Getting back together hasn't been easy, either.
Philburn is quiet now.
They can't do much together.
He uses a walker, has nightmares and is hypervigilant.
When they go out to eat, they sit in a corner, so no one can come up from behind. She wakes him slowly, little by little, or he may come awake violently. He's fanatical about keeping doors and windows locked. He can't watch some kinds of movies, even former favorites like "Black Hawk Down."
Some kinds of news bothers him, like the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. He can't stand fireworks. When they're driving, he looks constantly at the roadside, like he did in Iraq, for IEDs. He doesn't like vehicles traveling too close behind or in front. He reacts badly to high beams of oncoming cars. He can't work, because he can't sit or stand for long.
He's on Social Security disability and half-disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He does what he can at home, loading and unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, scooping up the cat litter.
But there are days when pain kicks in, and he sits on the couch all day. She's his caregiver. She takes him to his appointments, lines up his eight daily medications and protects him, in a reversal of their earlier role.
"I don't want to be like this," he tells her.
But she doesn't feel sorry for him, because if she did, he'd feel sorry for himself - and that would be worse.
He forgets things, doesn't like to be hugged and does not show much emotion. Intimacy is infrequent.
But they had true love then, and they have true love now, Philburn said.
They live in Hollidaysburg, having moved here to be near his daughter Sandy, who lives in Roaring Spring.
She volunteers for FamilyOfaVet.com.
As a vet's "next of kin," Sebock will be among those honored today at the Blair County War Veterans' Council parade.
"You're a survivor," said parade organizer Frank Benfatta, a World War II veteran, after hearing Sebock's story recently. "Hat's off to you, kid."
"If not for her, I'd probably be homeless," Philburn said
"We knew we had to give it a second chance," Sebock said. "To see where it went."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.