“If Not Me, Then Who . . .”
That phrase is at the core of the Travis Manion Foundation – a non-profit organization established to honor 1st Lt. Travis Manion of the United States Marine Corps, who was killed in action on April 29, 2007.
“If not me, then who . . .” comes from Manion’s comment after he volunteered for his second deployment. When asked why he was returning, Manion said if he didn’t go, someone less skilled would have to take his place. He was killed by a sniper in Iraq while aiding wounded comrades. For his actions he was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star with Valor.
His best friend and roommate at the Naval Academy, Lt. Brendan Looney, was in the middle of Navy SEAL training when Manion was killed. He dedicated the remainder of his training in memory of Manion, finishing the first in his SEAL class. Three years later, he was killed in a helicopter crash in the mountains of Afghanistan. Manion and Looney now rest side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery.
When John Duffy ’17 (Auburn, N.Y.) heard their stories at a summer seminar at the Naval Academy, he knew it was one Culver students would want to hear. Working with Riley Callahan ’17 (Elmhurst, Ill.), they were able to have Hugo Lentze of the foundation talk with interested students and faculty members on Nov. 9.
On Veterans Day, they held a Veterans Appreciation Night at the Prep Hockey game. They recognized the veterans working at Culver and offered fans the opportunity to sign a special poster that was delivered to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind. More than 200 people signed.
Being able to sandwich the two events around Culver’s Veterans Day Ceremony gave additional meaning to their senior service project. “They were supposed to be two separate projects,” Duffy said, but having Lentze, the director of Strategic Partnerships with the Travis Manion Foundation, visit before Veterans Day “worked out pretty well for us.”
Lentze said the Travis Manion Foundation works with families of fallen soldiers, helps returning veterans make the transition to civilian life, and works to find ways for veterans to benefit others in their communities. Especially when it comes to working with youth.
Using returning veterans as instructors and mentors, the foundation focuses on the development of character in youth, Lentze said. The four pillars of character development are Courage, Integrity, Leadership, and Service, he added, highlighting people who have displayed those characteristics.
One of those he cited was 1st Lt. Andrew K. Stern ’98, who exhibited all four traits during his life and, especially in protecting those he was serving with. Stern was killed when an improvised explosive device denoted while his tank platoon was providing security for an engineering unit. His actions were credited with saving many lives.
After World War II, 12 percent of the population had served in the Armed Forces. Today, that total is down to less than one percent.
By serving others, Lentze said we honor our fallen heroes. At the foundation, that includes assisting those returning veterans make the adjustment to civilian life. Even though the public may not realize it, there can often be a disconnection between returning soldiers and the rest of the community.
Part of the reason is simply a numbers game, he explained. After World War II, 12 percent of the population had served in the Armed Forces. Today, that total is down to less than one percent. By offering special transition workshops, the foundation helps veterans identify their strengths and passions, provide career education, and helps them find the resources to ensure their success.
The foundation has also found veterans still have a strong desire to serve in some fashion. Couple this with the fact that one-third of today’s youth don’t have positive role models in their lives, connecting the two groups benefits everyone involved, Lentze explained. Because of their training, veterans are able to help youngsters learn how to handle “the little stuff now,” so they are better prepared to deal with “the big stuff that happens later in life.”
The foundation also supports National Service Week and 9/11 Heroes Runs as formal ways to bring veterans and the rest of the community together, he said. There are currently 50 9/11 Heroes Runs that take place around the country each September and more are being added.
Since Lentze’s talk, Duffy and Callahan said some students have shown an interest in hosting a 9/11 Heroes Run at Culver. The 5K and 1-mile fun runs honor those in the military and emergency responders. There are currently no 9/11 Heroes Runs in Indiana, with the closest being in Chicago.