People come to Edgewood for the beautiful scenery, great horseback riding, tasty pizza, and fine folks, but Vietnam veteran and former marine Richard Phillips and his daughter Elizabeth never meant to be here at all.
After getting stranded in Edgewood, a few locals started to see what they could do to get him and his daughter back on the road.
Two weeks ago, the two were celebrating their post-Covid freedom with a motorcycle ride across the country. They were taking the scenic route through the Southwest on their way to Oregon, when their bike, a 1996 Harley Davidson Fatboy, broke down on Interstate 40 in Edgewood.
Phillips said he coasted down the exit ramp to N.M. 344, where help instantly found him. “People came out of, I usually say ‘the woodwork,’ but now I say ‘the desert,’” Phillips said of the people who stopped to offer him help.
While a broken-down bike on the freeway is certainly a headache, Richard Phillips has already faced more than his share of challenges.
“I’m on my tenth life,” he said. “I went to Vietnam. ‘74-’75. The evacuation of Saigon. From there to West Africa. From there, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq.”
Through a network of friendly individuals, the pair were set up at a campsite at the Route 66 RV Park, and put in touch with a local mechanic to help get the bike back in working order and running smoothly.
After a run-in with a bad mechanic in Wichita, Kansas—whose costly repair job actually damaged the Fatboy, according to Phillips—and an unlucky loss of several hundred dollars’ worth of road trip funds, the Phillips were at an impasse.
Phillips served his country for 30 years, 15 of them as a sniper, but his pension doesn’t reflect his stellar record, he said. “I’ve got two purple hearts and a silver star; I’m not a joke. My longest confirmed shot was a mile and a quarter out.”
He even participated in a mission with Seal Team 6 involving the rescue of a Captain Phillips (no relation) from Somali pirates back in 2009, later memorialized in the 2013 film “Captain Phillips,” but he can’t talk much about that. “It’s classified,” he said.
Phillips’ body bears the scars of his life. He has shrapnel in both legs from rescuing a fellow platoon mate after he stepped on a mine. “I wouldn’t leave another marine behind. I was the squad leader,” he said.
Phillips has also survived a gunshot wound to the head, and in 2019, he survived several days in a coma after being run off the road while riding his motorcycle.
“They told me when I came out of that coma that I was never going to ride a motorcycle again,” he said. “Took me six months to walk four miles.”
Phillips has battled physical setbacks as well as personal tragedies. The very road trip that eventually would bring him through New Mexico began in February, as farewell to an old military brother in arms, he said.
“I was in North Carolina, and a buddy of mine, John, was on his last ride out of Missouri,” he said.
Phillips met up with his friends in Florida, and they rode to Key West for a final adventure. “John had Stage 4 cancer, and we rode down there and just had the best time ever,” said Phillips. “We were riding back, just north of Tampa, and we stopped at a red light, and he passed. He fell over. That was it.”
Phillips’ mother was a survivor of domestic abuse. His daughter Elizabeth, a mother to three boys, is also a survivor. “Something really terrible happened to me, so I have a lot of anxiety now,” she said.
What started out as a pleasant father-daughter journey across the Southwest has turned into a tense struggle to stay safe, dry, and fed, while also getting the family’s motorcycle repaired on limited funds.
The two are currently staying in a small tent in a shady corner of the RV park off Route 66, where the sounds of passing motorcycles keep causing Phillips to pause mid-conversation to crane his neck, trying to get a look at the bike. “Every single time,” laughed Elizabeth.
The park’s owner, Andrea Newman, and manager, Lois Rush, have coordinated to let the family stay for free. They’ve also purchased parts for the motorcycle’s repairs and loaned the family a small grill to cook with at the campsite.
“Everyone is so divided because of political or economical differences,” said Edgewood resident Erin Nelson, who alerted The Independent to the Phillips’ presence in town. “But we are all the same, and we should be helping our neighbors, friends, and even people we just met.”
Nelson has been transporting the family to and from local mechanic Nick Finch’s shop to keep up with repairs.
Finch—who is starting up his own mobile mechanic service, said Phillips—is donating his time to the family. He has also purchased some of the bike parts himself. Additional parts have been donated by Rob’s Used Harley Parts in Reston, Virginia.
“I need to give a lot of gratitude to those folks,” Phillips said.
The bike repairs, however, are turning out to be much more extensive than Phillips previously thought. The tires are dry-rotted, the exhaust pipes are worn out, the gas gauge is broken, and the mechanic in Kansas created more problems than he was hired to fix, said Phillips.
In another display of bad luck, the Phillips’ saddle bags were robbed while they were eating in Kansas. The thieves took hats, jewelry, the bike cover, Phillips’ back brace, and many of Elizabeth’s clothes.
In addition to the bike repairs, the family needs clothes for Elizabeth, including a jacket, size 14 jeans, and a riding mask to help with dust and exhaust.
Though Phillips said he didn’t need anything as long as his daughter had what she needed, Elizabeth noted how uncomfortable he is without his kidney belt, a brace many motorcycle riders use to support their lower back and guard against wind chill.
“I hate to ask for anything,” Phillips said. “I’m the one who helps folks.”
The campsite features a picnic table and a tarp to shade the tent from direct sunlight, but they have had no defense against the daily rains.
“It was pouring the other night and we got soaked,” said Elizabeth. “We had to wash and dry all the blankets.”
The word “gratitude” was spoken by father and daughter dozens of times during their conversation with The Independent. It’s clear that the residents of this town have made an impact on the family.
“People need to know that they are not totally stranded in Edgewood, New Mexico,” said Phillips, as he turned again to get a look at another bike roaring past the park.
Nelson set up a GoFundMe for the Phillips family so they can continue their journey home: gofundme.com/f/retired-marine-vet-in-need-of-communities-help.
Route 66 RV Park with be hosting a barbecue for the Phillips family Aug. 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. Food will be cooked by Red Arrow BBQ, and donations for plates will be accepted. All are welcome.