THE BLOG

If Not Me, Then Who?

01/05/2012 04:05 pm ET | Updated Mar 06, 2012

There is a ring of flags outside the courthouse here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, each representing a local Marine-Soldier-Sailor-Airman killed in combat since 9/11. An-Nasiriyah... Bayji... Eastern Afghanistan... Salman Pak... Kandahar... Baghdad... Fallujah...

Twenty-plus flags at last count; a surprisingly large number for an upper-middle class county in the liberal northeast United States. This quaint little revolutionary war-era town is better known as the home of anthropologist Margaret Mead, renowned authors Pearl S. Buck, Dorothy Parker and James Michener, and for you Milleniums, the singer Pink.

But more important today than Pink, is that Doylestown is the home of the Travis Manion Foundation, named after 1st Lt Travis Manion, USMC, killed in Fallujah in April 2007.

With 6,500+ fallen heroes since 2001 (1,369 Marines), there is no lack of grief and frustration in these numbers, but very few parents have rallied to build on their child's legacy as Col. Tom and Mrs. Janet Manion have done.

Travis, a star athlete and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was a natural leader with a large circle of friends. Upon his death his parents decided to turn their tragedy into something positive, and decided "in lieu of flowers..." and soon in excess of $100,000 arrived which they decided to donate to worthy veteran-related causes. They formed the Travis Manion Foundation, a 501(c)(3) corporation, and donated $ 140,000 in scholarships to Travis's high school that first year.

The following year, Travis Manion Foundation presented an additional $40,000 in scholarships, $85,000 to Fellowships for wounded and disabled veterans through the Foundation's "The Mission Continues" $45,000+ for Good Grief seminars to help families of the fallen.

Today, almost four years later, the Travis Manion Foundation has raised and distributed in excess of $ 500,000, and operates three major programs:

Honor the Fallen by Challenging the Living, where fellowships are awarded to wounded and disabled veterans for volunteer service in their communities. It provides service opportunities to wounded veterans who still have the desire to serve their country, but whose disabilities have prevented them from continuing to serve in the military.

The Character Does Matter Leadership program is led by Ryan Manion Borek, Travis's sister, and provides speakers on leadership and responsibility for junior high and high schools. They use Travis's motto "If not me, then who?" to illustrate how important service, compassion, teamwork, leadership, and courage are in today's society. The program has been very well received in Philadelphia and the other schools where it's been presented.

9/11 Heroes Run each September 11th, a 5K race to be held this year in 35 locations around the United States, plus races in Iraq, Afghanistan, England, and several Navy ships at sea.

Their funding comes from both private and corporate donations, with General Motors-Chevrolet contributing $250,000 this past July. "That was a big day for us," said Col Manion, (USMC, ret), "it enables us to continue supporting the families of military members and emergency responders."

The Foundation also sponsors and funds a Good Grief Seminar with TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) for families of the fallen. These seminars provide emotional support and healing, and to-date has had 500+ attendees.

Col and Mrs. Manion have dedicated themselves into supporting America's returning combat veterans. "I don't think America understands the sacrifices and environment our Marines and soldiers endure," Manion said," but that message needs to get out."

In only three years, the Manion Foundation has become one of most professionally operated private foundations supporting wounded and disabled veterans and the families of America's fallen heroes. This should come as no surprise, however, to anyone who knew 1stLt Travis Manion, USMC, who when it was suggested when he was home on leave that he not go back to Iraq, quickly replied "If not me, then who?"

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Andrew Lubin is a regular blog contributor for the Marine Corps Association & Foundation, and embed journalist for Leatherneck Magazine. You can find more of his blogs here or on Leatherneck Magazine.