WASHINGTON (Gray DC) A Fort Drum soldier secures his place in history as a hero of the highest order, as a grateful nation says thank you at a White House ceremony Wednesday. For the soldier's family, it's a proud and painful day.
Eleven years after Trevor Oliver's father - Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins -- died protecting his unit in Iraq, Oliver accepted the Medal of Honor. "It's the most incredible honor I can think of getting, especially with my dad being military - it's the highest honor," Oliver said prior to the ceremony.
Finding himself face-to-face with a suicide bomber in June 2007, Atkins bear-hugged their attacker and drove him to the ground, using his own body to shield those under his command.
"I witnessed the heroics that ultimately saved my life and the lives of several others," said former Sgt. Sand Aijo.
Former Sgt. Jared Venable said it's a struggle to express to Atkins' family just how thankful he is to have served with Atkins. "There isn't the words, they don't exist I don't think," he said, "he was my father figure, because I really was still a boy."
Atkins's brothers-in-arms said Wednesday's recognition is long overdue.
But for Atkins' son and parents - nothing, not even the medal of honor - compares to the respect he won from with whom he served. "It's very gratifying to know that the people who served with Travis, both his superiors and his subordinates, thought so much of him," said Jack Atkins, Travis' father.
Wednesday's ceremony is bittersweet for the family. They're honored and grateful, but the strain is also evident as new recognition re-opens old, invisible wounds that will never truly heal. "It is painful," Travis' mother Elaine admitted. The family finds comfort though in their happy memories, and knowing their son will be remembered as one of the most courageous to ever serve this country.