Saturday, January 5, 2008

An American Hero - Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield, U.S. Marine

Even in death, Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield is reaching back to his family.

The Fremont, Calif., Marine was just 19 when he laid down his life in Iraq, one of 20,000 Camp Pendleton Marines fighting off murderous Islamic radicals around Fallujah and Ramadi on April 6, 2004.

Ten others died that day for freedom.

Although Layfield's life ended in a blood-red frozen moment of gunfire, the family left behind to mourn his death continues to receive words of love and support.

There's an almost supernatural connection as well that continues to provide a bond to their fallen hero.

During the funeral services at the Golden Gate Cemetery in San Bruno honoring Cpl Travis and his Lakota Sioux roots on his father's side, a hint of his continuing spirit came when a gust of wind knocked over the photograph of the young Marine. His family stood in wonderment, interpreting the moment as a sign from Travis that he loved all of them from above.

Last fall, a DNA test confirmed that Travis Layfield left more behind than his loving spirit. Diane Layfield, Travis' mother, found out that he left a young son.

His family has warmly embraced the toddler named Dylan Thomas Stefani, born to his ex-girlfriend.

"It's a blessing discovering that there is still a part of Travis that will live on," Diane Layfield told the Oakland Tribune.

"(Dylan) helped ease the pain a little this year."

John Layfield, who is divorced from Diane, and his older sister, Tiffany Bolton, were shocked at first, and then deeply grateful to have Travis' child in their lives.

But Travis wasn't done yet surprising his family.

During my most recent trip to visit our troops in Kuwait, I was given the opportunity by base Chaplain Lt. Col. Rachel Coggins to speak to the assembled troops waiting for their C-130 transport home for Christmas.

My organization, Move America Forward, was delivering 226,000 Christmas, Hanukkah and holiday cards to the military men and women who shine with pride over their duty and service fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afterwards, a Marine sergeant approached me.

"Ma'am, my name is Sgt. Chavez, and I heard you say that you are from the San Francisco Bay Area. Do you know Diane Layfield?"

"Yes, Sergeant Chavez, I know her," was my stunned response.

"Please, ma'am, will you do me a favor? I recruited her son into the Marines, and I have carried his bracelet with me for two and a half years. Will you give it to his mom? It would mean so much to me."

Sgt. Chavez, 6-foot-1, all Marine-built muscle, trained to fight and kill our enemy, looked at me with stricken eyes.

Gently, I took the bracelet and promised him that I would deliver the well-worn remembrance of a young man who lived and died for his country.

I am going to make good on that promise today. Diane Layfield, determined that Travis and his memory shall live forever, marveled that her son has kept speaking to her over and over again, in the most unexpected and wondrous ways.

It is a Christmas gift neither she nor I will ever forget.

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