Today, the family of an Army staff sergeant who used his own body to shield three of his soldiers from the fatal blast of a suicide bomber in Iraq received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Trevor Oliver, 22, son of the late Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, told a packed room in the White House that while he took great pride in receiving the medal on behalf of his father, it was the words and stories that his fellow soldiers told of his father’s service, friendship and leadership that he valued the most in recent days.
“Everything that you have said to me over the last few days has meant the world to me,” he said. “Dad always had the funniest stories about you guys. I feel so close to you and to him with every story I hear.”
Atkins joined the Army in 2000 out of the Bozeman, Montana, area. He first deployed with the 101st Airborne Division to Iraq for the 2003 invasion.
He left the Army after his first enlistment.
But not for long, as President Donald Trump told the crowd.
“That fact is he was bored, he was very bored,” Trump said. “He wanted back in.”
So, in 2005, Atkins rejoined the ranks and by mid-2006 he was back in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division.
Late in the deployment, on June 1, 2007, he was with three other soldiers conducting vehicle observation post work along a familiar route. They got a call that two pairs of suspicious looking men nearby were crossing the road.
They sped to the location and confronted two of the men. Atkins got out of the Humvee to search them. One resisted and they began to wrestle. He saw the man reaching under his clothing and realized he was trying to trigger a suicide vest.
Atkins bear hugged the man, slammed him to the ground and covered his body while positioning his own body between the bomber and his troops.
He saved three soldiers’ lives that day.
All three were in the room as the medal was presented.
Another 50 soldiers who served with Atkins — some still in uniform, and others in suits and ties — also flanked the stage during the ceremony.
Trevor was 11 years old when his father died. He is 22 years old now.
Trevor has made it clear through the week to media and officials that all he wants people to know that his dad was the best father and best soldier.
Trump summed up Atkins actions and his legacy.
“In his final moments on Earth, Travis did not run,” Trump said. “He did not hesitate. He laid down his life for his fellow soldiers.”
He said Atkins’ named would be etched alongside America’s finest. And today’s ceremony simply solidified those past actions.
“You can’t get better than the congressional Medal of Honor, you just can’t,” Trump said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.