While their only son was off fighting in Iraq, Remy and Lanny Davis wrote a card that would never reach him.
"Never let your guard down," Remy Davis said, reading the card that was returned unopened. "We are looking forward to your safe return."
Days after they sent the card, Army Spc. Richard Davis, a member of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, was killed. But he was a victim, not of war, but of murder, and police suspect it was at the hands of his fellow soldiers.
Hours after returning safely from the war in Iraq on July 12, Davis and four of his Army buddies celebrated their homecoming with a rowdy night out at a local strip club near Fort Benning, Ga. According to police reports, Davis insulted one of the dancers and the men were all kicked out of the bar.
Authorities say Davis began to fight with former roommate Jacob Burgoyne. The fight escalated on the drive home. Davis was beaten and two of the men told police that another friend, Alberto Martinez stabbed Davis repeatedly. His body was then dragged to the woods and set on fire, police said. It remained there for months before police learned what happened.
Last week, Martinez, 23, pleaded not guilty in the slaying. The three other soldiers, Burgoyne, Mario Navarrete and Douglas Woodcoff, all 24, are each charged with concealing a death, a felony that could send them to prison for 10 years.
Brainwashed to Kill?
Davis' family didn't find out their son was back in the United States until a soldier from Fort Benning called the family in St. Charles, Mo., to see if he had arrived home. Lanny Davis went to Fort Benning a month later to inquire about his son, and was told the army had listed him as AWOL, or absent without leave. But there were new clothes, and his toothbrush left in the barracks.
Fort Benning began investigating his disappearance in the fall, after Lanny Davis sought help from his local Congressman. The skeletal remains of his son were found on Nov. 7. Now, family members of the soldiers accused in his death are also seeking answers.
"Looks like I've lost a son not in the war but because of the war or partly because of the war," said Aubrey Healy, Burgoyne's stepfather. "Why he does something like this, I cannot imagine."
Healy, a Vietnam veteran, wonders if their war experience led the soldiers to violence. "You've got to be brainwashed," he said. "The kid knows every way in the world to kill somebody."
Davis and three of the accused served in the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which saw some of the bloodiest combat of the war in Iraq.
"People who had no predisposition for violence toward anybody else, but yet had been in a violent situation for such a long time serving their country and then this happens," said Mark Shelnutt, an attorney for one of Woodcoff, one of the accused men.
Decompression Training for Soldiers
The Army provides decompression training to help returning soldiers adjust to normal life. They will review the Davis case to see if any warning signs were missed.
"We continually review the welfare of our soldiers and do whatever is necessary to take care of our soldiers,' said Col. Steven Salazar, brigade commander for the 3rd Infantry at Fort Benning.
"Our main effort is to stabilize and provide supportive services to the veteran," said Alfonso Datres, director of the readjustment counseling service at the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Burgoyne's stepfather says the Army should have done more
"They did a 30- to 40-minute evaluation on him and then turned him loose," Healy said. "That doesn't make any sense." Meanwhile, Davis' father, also a veteran, is left mourning the death of his 25-year-old son who survived war, but not its aftermath.
"We don't have the chance to hug him, or kiss, him, or say we love him," Lanny Davis said. "These guys took this away from us."
ABCNEWS' Sara Ruth produced this story for Good Morning America.