Adam's legacy: Fallen SEAL's story becomes international inspiration

Submitted photo FEARLESS FAMILY: Hot Springs native Adam Brown, back right, gathered with his wife, Kelley, second from back right, and his family for one of their last family pictures before he died in 2010. Adam Brown's family and thousands from around the world continue to use his story and his memory for inspiration for new acts of kindness and humanitarian efforts.
Submitted photo FEARLESS FAMILY: Hot Springs native Adam Brown, back right, gathered with his wife, Kelley, second from back right, and his family for one of their last family pictures before he died in 2010. Adam Brown's family and thousands from around the world continue to use his story and his memory for inspiration for new acts of kindness and humanitarian efforts.

The story of a local hero has become an unexpected catalyst for synergy and philanthropy in the Hot Springs community and across the world in the five years since his death.

Tuesday will mark the fifth anniversary since U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Adam Brown was killed in action in Afghanistan. He was 36.

Brown's family began to learn the devastating news by the night of March 17, 2010. His wife, Kelley, was notified late that evening.

His parents, Larry and Janice Brown, were told early the next morning. They said they do not remember many specific details as the following days, weeks and even months were a "blur."

"Your mind just kind of turns off," his father said. "Your whole body basically turns off and you just kind of do what you're told."

"We just remember spots of it, because you would go crazy if you remembered everything," his mother said.

The Browns said friends and their church family were a tremendous help in the days after. They were helped with planning for the funeral and even menial tasks such as packing.

Adam's command sent other SEALs to help the Browns plan for his funeral, but the only thing on their mind was to be with Kelley and her children, Nathan and Savannah, in Virginia Beach, Va. Nathan was 10 years old and Savannah was 7. The family was able to find plane tickets, but they had to fly out from Memphis, Tenn.

Bobby Goodman volunteered to borrow a bus from First Baptist Church to drive them to the airport. He picked up all 10 members of the Brown family at 11 p.m. and drove them about 200 miles to Memphis.

Hundreds of relatives, friends and members of the community gathered in silence when Adam's body arrived in Hot Springs on March 23. Janice said the scope of the funeral surprised her. She knew Adam had risen to a level of great respect in the Navy, but she never thought of him as a "war hero."

"I never thought about Adam being a SEAL," Janice said. "I always thought about Adam just being that little boy."

Adam wrote during his time in the Navy that he wanted his story to be told if he were to die in the line of duty. He did not want only his accomplishments to be shared, but also his faults. He also wrote he wanted to be buried next to his grandfather.

His family jokes about how he did not want to be buried in a casket, but preferred to be laid to rest in "Arkansas dirt." Adam's wish was fulfilled, partially. They later learned that some of his comrades had opened his casket and added some Arkansas dirt before he was buried.

Rachel Mundy, a high school classmate, learned after his death that Nathan and Savannah still took part in a "shamrock run" in Virginia after Adam's death. She and other friends wanted to do something to help the family.

Mundy had an idea for a race of some kind that others could join with Adam's family. She was far from the only person to seek a method to honor him.

Wolf at heart

Adam Brown graduated from Lake Hamilton High School in 1992 when the population of Garland County was about three-fourths of the 2014 estimated population of more than 97,000. He was friends with students at schools throughout the county.

"That was Adam," Mundy said. "You met him one time and you felt like he was your friend."

"Adam had a lot of friends that felt Adam was their best friend," his mother said. "Adam just had lots and lots of friends. I'm not like that, but he could walk up and meet anybody and they're buddies."

Janice and Larry saw Adam, Kelley and the children at least twice a year and usually every few months. Janice said she was irritated when they once went about six months without seeing each other.

The family rallied together after Adam's death. Janice stayed with Kelley in Virginia for about a month after the funeral. Adam's twin sister, Manda, went to stay with Kelley when Janice returned.

Kelley and the kids spent the summer in Hot Springs. Construction began on a new house for the family in July. The Browns said they were ecstatic when Kelley decided to move the family to Hot Springs.

"We encouraged that," Janice said. "We might have even been a little selfish there. We jumped on that, 'We'll help you and we'll get you anything you need.'"

The family later learned that families are recommended to avoid major decisions during the first year of grieving, but it had been Adam's dream to move back to Hot Springs. He and Kelley picked out the lot for their house two years before he died.

Kelley and the children moved to Hot Springs around November before the house had been completed. Nathan and Savannah began school at Lake Hamilton and a friend offered the let the family stay with them until the house was finished.

About 20 of Adam's fellow servicemen traveled to Hot Springs after their deployment and leaped from the Airport Road bridge over Lake Hamilton in his honor. It was a stunt Adam carried out years earlier. The Browns can see the bridge from their home.

The group held a short service at the cemetery. They stayed in town for several days and two stayed with the Browns.

Several of the same servicemen contacted Rick Stewart, a film producer for the National Rifle Association, to tell him Adam's story needed to be told. Stewart knew many in the military, including Adam. The two had met in Las Vegas about two months before his final deployment.

Stewart produced a "A Tribute to Adam Brown: U.S. Navy SEAL," part of the Patriot Profiles series sponsored by Smith & Wesson. The NRA invited the family to Pittsburgh, Pa., for the premiere of the documentary in May of 2011.

Stewart introduced the Browns to Eric Blehm, an author, at the event. When they returned to Hot Springs, they learned from a national announcement that Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda.

Planning the book

The Browns spent time with Blehm, who was interested in writing about Adam. They decided that if they were to allow a book to be written, Blehm should be the writer.

"The same thing we told Eric we told Rick, that we would cooperate and we would fully do anything they ask as long as the book would honor Adam and tell his whole story, but glorify God in the process," Larry said.

Janice said she was spellbound the first time she read "Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown." The book was released on Memorial Day in 2012.

The family felt Blehm did a fantastic job on the book and that he captured who Adam was, but they did not know how much others would enjoy it. "Fearless" became a New York Times best-seller.

Fewer than 200 participants, including several SEALs, took part in the first Adam Brown Shamrock Run/Walk 5K in 2011. Planning began that January with manual registration online, custom race bibs and no chip timers.

Participation in the race has grown by at least 25-30 percent every year since. The fifth annual race on March 7 saw more than 1,000 people take part.

The race and the book have facilitated interactions and relationships between the Browns and others from around the world. A New York City firefighter donated a painting for this year's race. Firefighters on the other shift from his firehouse were in the World Trade Center when it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. His ladder number was "24," the same as Adam's football number in high school.

A coach from Philadelphia read the book and told Mundy that only team members of high moral character were allowed to wear the team's No. 24 jersey. A Boy Scout from Illinois traveled with his family for this year's race. He is collecting shoes to provide for children in Afghanistan, just as Adam once had.

Larry and Janice were contacted by a Christian group of men in Switzerland who had served in the military. The Swiss "Band of Brothers" read "Fearless" and wanted to attend the race. They were unable to attend, but went through the complicated process of sending $800 to help sponsor the race.

Larry has since accepted many public speaking opportunities to speak about Adam and military service. He and his wife said the amount of engagements they have been presented since Adam's death may have been a blessing by keeping them occupied.

"We've just kind of given everything to the Lord and he's guided us in things," Janice said. "People have contacted us and we think, 'If it wasn't meant to be, God will close the door somewhere.

"I think he has kind of protected us. We have met some really nice people. We haven't had very many -- I don't really know of a 'bad' experience we have had."

Brown's legacy

The Browns, Mundy and the Adam Brown Legacy Foundation still regularly receive phone calls, letters and emails by those who have seen the documentary, read the book or heard about Adam's service elsewhere. Both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama sent letters to the family.

"It's been a ride," Larry said. "We get emails and even phone calls just on a regular basis of how people want to tell us how Adam has inspired them.

"You raise this silly kid and you don't expect something like that."

Near the end of his life, Adam decided he wanted to "grow up." He was taking courses online through Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., and was close to finishing before he was killed.

Excelsior traditionally provides educational opportunities to active duty service members and veterans. The college flew representatives to Hot Springs to present the family with his college diploma.

Adam approached his service as a job. He rarely discussed his service or any recognitions he received.

Janice received a bracelet from SEAL wives that was decorated with a number of medals Adam had earned but never told his family about. The Browns did not know about two Bronze Stars he was awarded, along with a number of other commendations.

The race has become an avenue for the Brown family to recognize all of Adam's accomplishments and give back to the community. Proceeds from the 2015 event funded $37,200 in contributions to local organizations and another $10,000 to the Teen Challenge International of Florida in Sanford.

"We love the run," Janice said. "That is one of our favorite things. As far as doing something (for Adam), we enjoy that."

"It affirms what Adam was all about," Larry said. "Adam wasn't about the 'warrior-type guy.' Even though, evidently, he was pretty good at it. He must have been pretty good at it.

"He was more about people. He was very, very much a people person."

Movie in the works

The next step in sharing Adam's story could come via a major motion picture. Relativity Studios obtained the rights to the "Fearless" story after a competitive bidding process last May.

The Brown family has signed away rights to the movie. Relativity has pledged to keep a "Parental guidance" rating and not to hide aspects of Adam's faith. The family did not want the movie to consist of adult language or drug content.

Larry expressed his concern to Brett Dahl, Relativity's senior vice president of production, following controversy after the release of "American Sniper," the story about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle who was killed at a Texas gun range in 2013. Larry was told Adam and Kyle had met each other.

The film set new box office records and has been praised by critics, but questions were asked about its portrayal of Kyle and the war in Iraq. Dahl told Larry that "American Sniper" showed how strongly the American public supports the military.

Dahl said a film about Adam would be a different style of movie with a different story. Relativity emailed Larry last week to notify him that Adam Targum has been hired to write the screenplay.

Targum, whose father served in Korea, is an executive producer for the television series "Banshee" on Starz. He was also an executive producer for "CSI:NY" on CBS.

Relativity told the family they are encouraged by the potential success for the film.

"This is a good story," Janice said. "It's not sad. It's a good thing and it's a good community. It's good people wanting to help other people. I just don't think you see that too much anymore."

Local on 03/15/2015

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