Nebraska hero helped preserve precious liberty

Friday, July 25, 2003

On a sunny, breezy July morning, a crowd of news people gathered at the grave site of a Nebraska hero. Standing in solemn silence, members of the state newspaper association listened reverently as special tribute was paid to the memory of Marine Capt. Travis Allen Ford of Ogallala.

Except for members of his family, few of those assembled knew Travis personally; yet, as he was memorialized with personal praise and patriotic splendor, tears trickled down the cheeks of those in the crowd, and their collective hearts ached with sorrow.

Even now -- six days later -- memories of the memorial service are as vivid as they were last Saturday when the ceremony took place at Ft. McPherson National Cemetery.

The setting was magnificent. As large flags billowed in the breeze, a large, loud military helicopter descended from the clouds, landing precisely as planned in an open section of the cemetery west of Capt. Ford's grave.

The crowd was already gathered at the grave site, having marched there in double file order only moments before. Soon after Nebraska's highest ranking military officer, Adj. Gen. Roger Lempke, strode to the scene, the words of "America the Beautiful" burst forth. Never have the awesome lyrics been more appropriate, as the surroundings were striking, and, at the same time, sensational and serene.

At the Ft. McPherson National Cemetery, located in the Platte River Valley south of Maxwell, rows and rows of white gravestones stretch out in symmetric order, serving as lasting sentinels to military veterans and their families.

We -- as a proud and grateful nation -- must never forget. That's why we gathered at Capt. Ford's grave site, and that's why we cried.

Travis -- who died April 5, 2003, when his helicopter went down in Iraq -- is the latest in a long line of Nebraska heroes ... men and women who served ... and died ...with valor.

"Travis was not only a hero in Iraq," said his youngest brother, Matt. "He was a hero in our backyards as well." Talking about his brother's tenacity, Matt asked the crowd to picture a 135-pound nose tackle, which Travis was at Ogallala High School. No goal was too big for this little man. "When he dreamed a dream, it was a done deal."

How sad it was to lose him. How sad it has been to lose so many heroes. We barely knew him ... and we hardly knew so many, many others. Yet, we cried, and in our hearts we will keep on crying. Because -- if not for Travis and thousands of others who have gone before -- our precious liberty would be in peril.

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