BOZEMAN - It was an outpouring of love for Travis Atkins on Thursday night, a Staff Sergeant who posthumously received the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump in March, during a ceremony put on to pay tribute to a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Atkins is one of only nine Montanans and 3,400 Americans to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest honor a military service member can be given. It is reserved only for the people described by the Army as “the bravest of the brave,” and the recipient’s acts of valor must be well-documented.
The Great Falls-born father of one was killed in June 2007 in Iraq, when he tackled an insurgent who had an explosive hidden beneath his clothes. Using his own body as a shield, Atkins threw himself over the bomber as the device detonated, effectively saving the lives of the three other US soldiers with him.
One of those soldiers was Sand Aijo, Atkins’ gunner, who flew thousands of miles to be present for the ceremony honoring Atkins on Thursday.
“I try to respect his legacy by being the best that I can be and always trying to do more,” said Aijo. “You know, [trying to] be a better person. And make sure that his sacrifice wasn't wasted on me."
Colonel John Valledor, Atkins’ Battalion Commander in Iran - who traveled from New Hampshire for the event - holds Atkins up as a symbol of selflessness and commitment to others.
"In his last moments on earth, he thought more about the life of his fellow soldiers than of himself,” he explained.
Both Aijo and Valledor addressed the 100-plus people at the ceremony on Thursday night, looking back fondly on the man they knew and the legacy he’s left behind.