Marine Father, a Gold Star Parent Speaks at Veterans’ Alliance Event

Friday, November 16, 2018

Retired U.S. Marine Col. Tom Manion

Retired U.S. Marine Col. Tom Manion, a Gold Star parent whose son died while rescuing his fellow Marines in Iraq, shared his family's story and those of other courageous veterans with an audience at William Blair's annual Veterans' Alliance event on November 13.

Reflecting on this year's Veterans Day, which marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Col. Manion called upon the audience to think hard about what the many men and women who have given their lives to protect freedom veterans stand for.

The sobering theme was given compelling life through the example of his son Travis and his comrades. Before Travis left for his second duty in Iraq, his brother-in-law asked why he was going back. Travis responded: "'If not me, then who...,'" the colonel said.

It is those words that the Manion family later rallied around to form the Travis Manion Foundation after Travis's death. Their mission became one to "honor the fallen by challenging the living." In relating the stories of his son, Col. Manion did both.

A story of courage

Travis was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000. There he met Brendan Looney, an athlete and a fellow freshman, who became his roommate and best friend.

By their sophomore year their lives had been reshaped completely by the 9/11 attacks. Shortly after graduation, Travis was commissioned as a marine lieutenant and deployed to Iraq. Meanwhile, Brendan became a Navy SEAL and later deployed to Afghanistan.

On April 29, 2007, during Travis' second deployment to Iraq, he was killed by gunfire from an enemy sniper in the streets of Fallujah. He was drawing fire away from wounded Marine teammates. For his heroic actions, Travis was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star with Valor.

Three years later, Brendan too was killed while on his 59th combat mission when his helicopter went down in the hills of Afghanistan.

As close as brothers, Travis and Brendan were later reunited side by side at Arlington National Cemetery in October 2010. Travis was moved from his cemetery in Pennsylvania and buried In Arlington three days before Brendan's funeral at the request of both families.

"Warriors for freedom," reads the epitaph written by Col. Manion, "brothers forever."

Four weeks after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama stood in Arlington to give his Memorial Day address, his speech extolled the courage and sacrifice of the two young men.

"Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. But we can honor their sacrifice, and we must. We must honor it in our own lives by holding their memories close to our hearts, and heeding the examples they set," Obama said on May 30, 2011.

The foundation thrives

Today, the Travis Manion Foundation—led by Travis' sister Ryan, who took over after her mother passed away, and Brendan's wife Amy—is thriving.

It challenges youth to have a 'if not me, then who...' moment every day, Col. Manion told the gathering – "To be big in something little so when the big moment comes you're ready."

More than 700 veterans are a part of the foundation's out-reach group with chapters across the country from Philadelphia to San Diego. Members have talked to thousands of high school students about the If Not Me, Then Who message and have organized service events nationwide to honor local heroes and bring communities together.

This year's veterans' event marked the 5th anniversary of William Blair Veterans' Alliance, formed to connect veterans and community partnerships with other veterans, and the 5th year the Alliance has hosted this event.

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