The small Army pin had been stuffed away long ago in his Woodinville attic, but when Milt Taylor saw the concern in his best friend's face...

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The small Army pin had been stuffed away long ago in his Woodinville attic, but when Milt Taylor saw the concern in his best friend’s face, he knew it was time to dig it out again.

Taylor listened as his friend, Pedro Villasenor, described the e-mails his family received from his son, Army Spc. German Villasenor, 20, who was fighting in Iraq and seemed too willing to leap into danger.

Taylor remembered his own days in Vietnam as a sergeant in the Army’s 1st Division and what it was like to be embattled against a fierce enemy.

“You look for anything you think might help you get home alive,” Taylor said. He remembered his Army battalion pin, inscribed with a Latin phrase “Noli me tangere,” or “Do not touch me.” To Taylor, the pin had offered a symbolic measure of protection and security.

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He hoped it would do the same for German Villasenor.

Taylor sent the pin and a letter to Villasenor, reminding him to be brave, but not foolhardy. He said Villasenor had to personally return the pin to Taylor when he came home from Iraq.

DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Pedro and Lilia Villasenor, center, watch news video of their son, German, upon his return to Louisiana from Iraq. The soldier received a Purple Heart after being injured by a roadside bomb.

Villasenor responded from Baghdad: He would give the pin back, but would expect Taylor to hand him a cold beverage in exchange.

It was a deal the two men fulfilled Easter Sunday, when Villasenor made it home to his parents’ Woodinville house, which was decorated with yellow balloons. Along with the pin, Villasenor came bearing another medal: a Purple Heart.

“I told German when he left I didn’t want any Purple Hearts,” said his mother, Lilia Villasenor, smiling as she looked at the medal. “But I’m a proud mom. We are blessed that he is home.”

Villasenor’s Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb while he was on patrol outside the community of Abu Ghraib shortly before Christmas. The front end of the vehicle was destroyed, but he survived with just cuts and bruises.

He believes the pin from Taylor may have helped that day.

Villasenor hadn’t planned on winning any medals, or going to war, when he signed up for the Army at age 17. He just wasn’t ready for college yet, he said.

“I wanted to experience something in life. I joined to do the fun stuff, jump out of planes. It got me to Iraq,” he said.

Villasenor is stationed at Fort Polk, La., in the 1st Battalion-509th Infantry. He spent his 18th birthday going through gas and biochemical survival training.

By the time he was 20 he was in Iraq, sending e-mails home to his family about his close calls with insurgents. Two of his friends were killed during the nine months his division spent in Iraq.

“His family felt he wasn’t afraid of anything,” Taylor said. “You have to be willing to take care of a situation, but you also need to be cautious.”

The hat Milt Taylor wore in Vietnam bears a patch that translates “Do not touch me.” To its right is the pin that German Villasenor brought back to Taylor from Iraq.

Taylor and his wife, Kara, had been longtime friends of the Villasenor family. When the Taylors were married, German Villasenor, who was then 11, sang “La Bamba” at the reception. The boy’s tenor voice elicited hearty applause from the audience, Taylor said.

“He was courageous, the way he sang,” Taylor said. “I think he took that courage with him to Iraq.”

For Villasenor, receiving the pin in the mail meant that an older soldier was looking out for him as he moved through Baghdad and Abu Ghraib. The memento and Taylor’s words stayed with him, Villasenor said.

“I always had it on my belt, and people would ask me about it,” Villasenor said. “It was awesome that someone would care for you like that, that they would pass something like that on to you.”

Coming home, Villasenor did more than return the memento, he found support in talking with Taylor about his war experiences. He also gave Taylor a new pin — one from Villasenor’s battalion.

“Now that I’m home, it’s good to talk to someone who’s been there,” Villasenor said. “He understands the noises, the feelings, the smells, the stuff that’s on your mind.”

For Taylor, it’s also been a chance to help support a fellow soldier who has recently returned from war.

“We have to make sure we take care of our boys when they come home,” Taylor said. “These things will let them know they are appreciated.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com