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"The Harley to Heaven:" Soldier Dies From Cancer Before Tour Ends

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As a young boy, from first to sixth grade, Travis Bromfield rode to school on the back of his father's motorcycle. Wedged between his Dad's back and the sissy bar, the wind caressed his innocent cheeks and his taste for the road was born. He developed a passion for not only motorcycles but cars, too, learning mechanics throughout high school. After graduating, he decided to continue his education and become a certified mechanic, setting his sights on the United Technical Institute in Arizona. Except the tuition at the high ranking school was out of reach for his humble family.

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His step-mother Esther Bromfield commented, "Even though I did not give birth to my son Travis I helped give him life. My husband had custody of Travis when we married. Travis was six years old, a very happy, loving child. As a mother raising five children they are all very special. They make you proud that you have steered them in the right direction."

So in 1999, the Anaheim, California native hoped the GI Bill would give him the funds, after a three-year enlistment, to attend. The 18 year-old Bromfield followed in his grandfather's footsteps and joined the Army. The middle child of five was the only son of Terry Bromfields's to step out of his civilian life, leaving his other three brothers and sister marveling at his courage. His grandfather, Sgt. 1st Class Leo Carroll, a 73 year-old WWII and Korean Veteran with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, with admiration watched his grandson honor his country the way he did from 1944 - 1966, and don a camouflage uniform.

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"Travis grew up to be such a handsome, respectable man. When he decided to join the Army I was so very proud of him. He was proud of himself as he should be for his accomplishments," His step-mother gushed.

Young Bromfield made his home at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin Army base in California, where he became a Military Mechanic and served with the 10th Mountain Division and later the 11th Armored Calvary Division Regiment after he opted to re-enlist another term and forfeit his dream of UTI in Arizona. Without foresight the war in Iraq was looming just a year ahead in 2003. Then, in February 2005, nearing 24, the strapping six-foot-four 250-pounder in excellent health prepared for a one-year deployment to Kuwait, then onto Baghdad, Iraq. Before leaving he told his father, "Dad, when I return (from Iraq) I'm going to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle." Terry replied, "Go ahead, son, you deserve it."

Skirting the bitter sand-laced winds and suffocating heat, the E-4 Specialist made a home at Camp Taji. The unpredictable nature of California fires, tremors, mudslides, throbbing heat and winds wouldn't be enough to prepare him for the unforgiving landscape of Baghdad.

Two months into his tour bumps erupted on top of his head which he assumed were bug bites. He later informed his parents of the pain he was experiencing with his shoulder, certain he strained it. The discomfort gravitated to his lower back, at which time he developed a cough that the medics diagnosed as a respiratory infection.

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By September 2005, after seven months in Iraq, his two-week leave couldn't come fast enough, and Spc. Travis Bromfield departed Camp Liberty for a respite on the Pacific coast of California. His family's loving hearts and arms opened wide welcoming the undoubtedly changed soldier home. But it was his Dad that insisted he see doctors at the Long Beach, California Veterans Hospital. His grandfather sat idle as he witnessed his grandson undergo a battery of tests, and after inspection of the bites atop his head, the 25 year-old soldier would discover that they were cancer tumors all along. And the shoulder pain he experienced in Iraq were tumors; the lower back pain, tumors in his lower spine; and his respiratory infection -- misdiagnosed -- was a large tumor in the center of his chest obstructing his breathing.

Those initial days home would be more life changing than the tour in Iraq itself, as a trio of VA Doctors diagnosed Spc. Bromfield on September 15, 2005 with a terminal, stage IV Poorly Differentiated Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of unknown primary, of the liver, bones, lungs, kidneys, brain and spine. With a two-month expectancy, this particular cancer only occurs in patients age 55 or older. So it was unpredictably rare that a 25-year-old be diagnosed with it.

The dire prognosis didn't deter Spc. Bromfield as he remained unfettered and extremely strong throughout his ordeal. "Travis never felt pity for himself. He was determined to beat the cancer and prove his doctors wrong," his father Terry Bromfield remembered. "I thought from the beginning that Travis must have been exposed to something in Iraq. I just couldn't comprehend how our son left here healthy and returned full of cancer. I questioned the doctors about his possible exposure, but the replies I got were, 'It's too early to tell.' Or 'The cancer wouldn't have shown up this fast even if he was exposed to something,' said another. While one commented, 'Your son has so much cancer in him it's the same as someone who smoked cigarettes for 40 years,'" his father recollected. "Convinced, we stood by our son without thinking about it again."

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His step-mother Esther added, "After we started putting things together I remembered a staff nurse making a comment that the soldiers were coming back from this war worse than the soldiers from Vietnam."

After his diagnosis, several of Spc. Bromfield's Army Sergeants and Officers came to visit him. His father reported that his son's Army Commanders were extremely upset with the medical staff in Iraq for not diagnosing him in the field sooner.

Spc. Bromfield, unable to complete his tour in Iraq, went to battle for his own life, as his health was under siege by an internal enemy: cancer. It had found a breeding ground of organs in which to multiply, and it would take an insurgency of chemotherapy to eradicate its occupation. Promising to extend his life expectancy to one year.

Beyond surgery, he endured chemo treatments of three different drugs administered intravenously for nearly seven hours a day. Additionally, a pill form of chemo was administered for 10 days, followed by self-injections for bone marrow for another five days. "This was one cycle of treatment," his father exclaimed. "Travis underwent this every three weeks for a total of four cycles." Following that, he took two drugs intravenously once a week for 26 weeks. "After 20 weeks of the second round of treatment the tumors on his head ate through to his skull and cancer tumors exploded in his brain," he recounted in horror. The doctors removed him from the chemo and ordered radiation for 20 days and then back onto chemo. "Although Travis' cancer was pretty well advanced when diagnosed, it was one year before the cancer took over his body."

Seventeen months from when his battle first began, The Long Beach Veterans Hospital used their assault of chemo, radiation, and palliative care (pain management), then finally hospice care, before all that remained was fulfilling the final wishes of Spc. Bromfield.

A portion of his requests were granted; that monies be donated to cancer research, and to have his family by his side at the end (as they were, except for one). His grandfather, who silently paved the way for his beloved and courageous grandson, had passed away five months earlier. Enabling him to wait with a flock of angels at the gates of Heaven for his grandson.

Then on February 20, 2007 at 105 pounds, the young 25 year-old hero melted into a golden blanket of bravery and love that his grandfather was holding. They both walked arm and arm into where the selfless alone are permitted -- the courageous, heroic protectors of our wars, the soldiers -- into an Eden bathed in peace. For Spc. Travis Bromfield's journey had ended, and finally, he along with his grandfather were going home.

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The medical review board discharged Spc. Bromfield from the Army before the review was over, claiming they couldn't reach him. His case manager at the VA hospital was able to have the specialist re-enlisted until review was complete, at which time he was medically retired. After nearly seven years of service with his last unit, the 11th Armored Calvary, his wish for full military honors were granted and he was buried at the National Cemetery of Riverside, California, where he remains close to his parents and four siblings. In remembrance for his service, seven medals hang framed on the wall, including the Iraq Campaign medal, the Army Accommodation medal, the Army Achievement medal, the Global War on Terrorism medal and National Defense medal.

"To be diagnosed with terminal cancer days after he came home for leave was devastating for our family, but we were all there for him from day one until the Lord took him into his hands. To watch my son go through this cancer and not complain made him a hero in my eyes," said his mother as she choked back tears. "Through all his treatments, set backs and disappointments, Travis stayed positive."

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Since he didn't have the chance to buy his Harley Davidson, his father said, "After he had passed away and all his affairs were settled, I was sitting in our garage thinking of Travis and thought, I want to do something for him. So I had an idea to buy a Harley Davidson and make it a memorial to him." He painted the entire bike with portraits of his son, a montage of years from his happy but brief life. His parents ride it to all charity events, including "Rides for Cancer" and rides that help injured soldiers. "The interest and comments we receive are great as we are able to share with others our discoveries after Travis' death. It prompts people to ask questions about what happened, in which we gladly oblige," informed Terry Bromfield. He purchased a 1999 Ultra Classic of the same year his son joined the military.

"After much research we're convinced Travis was exposed to depleted uranium. We don't believe the troops are being trained properly, let alone told what they are dealing with. Especially the mechanics that handle the DU contaminated vehicles that have been damaged (by roadside bombs)," his father admitted.

"We would visit my son at the Long Beach VA almost everyday. Even while he lay flat in bed all day for five months, unable to sit up, we spent as much time as possible, even if we sat and watched him sleep. It never entered my mind that my own government poisoned my son," his mother said in disbelief. "But I know now from all the research both my husband and I have done, along with other parents we have spoken to, that is exactly what happened. The media won't touch this for fear of our government. There's an old saying, 'everything comes out in the wash' and I think the washing machine has started."

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"I just can't believe that our government is treating our soldiers as if they are expendable," his father reeled. "It's one thing to lose a child in war by acts of war but to be actually poisoning our soldiers with exposure to depleted uranium and burn pits that the government has been told by their experts not to is another. Maybe if this happens to one of our top officials' child (and God forbid), then maybe they will do something about it, and believe the parents who have lost a child this way."

He added, "We parents need to join forces about this travesty to our soldiers. I tell as many people as possible and most respond with, 'I have never heard about this and why hasn't it been in the news?' I tell them the government does not want the public to know. As one high ranking military officer put it, 'this is the modern day Agent Orange.'"

"Are we as a country going to wait as many years as Vietnam Vets did before our government acknowledges this? I hope not," he said, stressing, "It really hurts that our son went to war for this country, willfully gave his life, and our government won't even acknowledge Travis as a "casualty of war." Travis was proud to be a soldier and proud to serve his country. And we as a family are extremely proud of him."

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"It is very difficult to know that Travis will never be coming home," Terry Bromfield mourned. "Tears still fill my eyes when I think of our son and all he had to go through. It was extremely difficult to watch our son deteriorate day after day and there wasn't a damn thing we could do. We felt completely helpless. His Mom and I continue to visit his grave each week even though it's been nearly three years since he passed away, it does not get any easier. But going to his grave is the closest we feel to Travis now. It somewhat brings us comfort to be with him there. Our whole week revolves around going to the cemetery on the weekend. This is our life now. We must remain strong for our child in this battle with the government."

"Our government needs to stop looking at these brave casualty of war soldiers as a small percentage for the "greater good." My son Travis, along with the thousands of other soldiers beginning with Desert Storm, who have come down with and died from cancers from their exposure to DU, in my eyes died directly connected to the war and should be recognized as such," Esther Bromfield argued.

"DU is harming not only our American loved one's but the people in Iraq too," she fumed. "This will be another Vietnam. Our government knows what's going on, as they did then. And I'll be dammed if it takes 20 years for the government to take responsibility for this. They downplay the use of DU but they know very well what it's doing."

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"At Travis' gravesite, we sit sometimes in silence, sometimes in tears but always with our memories, which no one can take from us. Travis loved this country and was very patriotic -- he served his country bravely. Our country needs to stop this. We need to join forces and let people know what's happening to our sons, daughters, fathers, uncles, aunts, mothers, and sisters," his step-mother grieved.

"Everyday there is something that reminds me of my son -- he is with me at all times. I miss his smile, his laughter, his touch, his scent. I want my son back and I know that won't happen," she wept. "But I don't want another parent to go through what we did."

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