By Tom Sileo
Contributor, Travis Manion Foundation
Editor, The Unknown Soldiers
The Travis Manion Foundation’s inaugural “If Not Me, Then Who…” Gala was filled with inspiring moments. But none was more poignant than when Ryan Manion, President of the Travis Manion Foundation and sister of fallen Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion, introduced each family member of a fallen U.S. service member in attendance.
One by one, they stood as Ryan said their names and honored their loved ones. With each introduction, tears welled up in the eyes of guests seated throughout the packed Union League of Philadelphia ballroom, as military family members who have lost so much during the past 11 years put a distinct human face on the enormous sacrifices of war.
“Tonight isn’t about us,” Ryan said. “It’s about honoring our extraordinary military community.”
Throughout the national Dec. 6 event to recognize character and leadership, the Manion family, guests of honor, and award recipients shined the spotlight on U.S. troops, veterans, and military families who are still stepping forward to serve.
“They’re standing watch right now in places like Helmand Province (Afghanistan), the Philippines, and the Horn of Africa,” James Brobyn, a wounded Iraq war veteran and Executive Director of the Travis Manion Foundation, noted.
Gen. James F. Amos, who has led thousands of Marines into battle during his distinguished career, stressed the importance of supporting our troops, veterans, and military families by standing behind the Travis Manion Foundation. The 35th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps also spoke about the legacy of 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star with Valor after his April 29, 2007, death in Fallujah, Iraq.
“I want to remind you of that name, Fallujah, because in 2006 and 2007, it too was a very dangerous place,” Gen. Amos said.
The Commandant then read a quote from 1st Lt. Manion’s Bronze Star summary of action.
“First Lt. Manion’s impact on the coalition force efforts in Fallujah transcended beyond his physical leadership and courage in the face of fire,” Gen. Amos said.
Travis’ father, Col. Tom Manion (Ret.), spoke about the pain of losing his only son to war and his beloved wife to cancer. Janet Manion, the Chairman, Founder, and Visionary of the Travis Manion Foundation, passed away five days before the 5th anniversary of Travis’ death.
“Janet’s looking down on this event,” Col. Manion said. “She’s proud of the fact that we’re realizing her vision in recognizing the selfless service and sacrifice of our military with the first-ever ‘If Not Me, Then Who…’ Leadership Award.”
That honor was bestowed upon Brian Stann, an Iraq war veteran and Silver Star recipient who continued to serve his fellow Americans after returning from the battlefield. As CEO of Hire Heroes USA, which finds jobs for at least six veterans per week, as well as a fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts series, Stann is an ambassador for the military community.
“Travis’ death changed me as a man,” Stann said while accepting the award. “It’s profoundly affected so many of my decisions, including some I made right after he passed.”
Stann urged the hundreds in attendance to become leaders in their cities and towns. Three of the Gala’s youngest guests – Aminah Tolbert, James Mills, and Matthew Cleveland – are doing just that. The high school and college students were awarded Character Does Matter Service Challenge Scholarships for answering the Travis Manion Foundation’s call to serve in their communities in honor of a fallen hero.
JWT, one of the world’s leading marketing and communications firms, was honored with the Corporate Leadership Award for working closely with the Travis Manion Foundation on everything from designing its logo to creating powerful public service announcements about the organization’s impact and reach. As Gen. Amos noted, JWT has also worked with the United States Marine Corps for six decades to spread its message of honorable service.
Fox News “Happening Now” anchor Jenna Lee, who served as the Gala’s Mistress of Ceremonies, noted how the Travis Manion Foundation has touched her life. As a military spouse herself, Lee urged the audience to become even more involved with the Travis Manion Foundation’s national “If Not Me, Then Who…” movement.
“It’s not only ‘if not me, then who…’” she said. “It’s also ‘if not now, then when?’”
As a remarkable evening of charity and consequence wrapped up, many in the audience were still undoubtedly thinking about the family members of fallen heroes who stood up one by one to be recognized. From the widows of two Navy SEALs killed in action to the father of a Marine who tragically took his own life after honorably serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, their faces are powerful reminders of all that is still being sacrificed to preserve freedom.
Indeed, the inaugural “If Not Me, Then Who…” Gala wasn’t about us. It was about them.