BOZEMAN – The family of Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins made it back home on Friday.
This comes two days after Atkins was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life to stop a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Dozens arrived at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport all in preparation for the event.
It was a very special event for those here in Bozeman, but also for others who came from as far as Idaho and beyond, just for the honor.
“We’re so proud to be Americans and so proud of Travis giving the ultimate sacrifice for us so we could be here today,” says Mike Anderson, Atkins’ former math teacher and coach.
An archway of American patriotism was one gesture of the many welcoming home Atkins’ family, his Medal of Honor in tow.
“This fellow, to receive the Medal of Honor is, as you know, a high, high honor and to us military, that’s incredible,” says Rich English, a member of the Patriot Guard of Montana.
English knows service; he was a medic in the jungles of Vietnam.
“That performance, what he did comes from inside and that’s a great credit to his mother and to his father and their upbringing, so I honor them as well,” English says.
The Bozeman High School band honored Travis’s family, too.
Others like the Olsons and the Andersons knew the family well and brought their memories to the airport terminal.
“My daughter gave him tennis lessons, and so we saw him on the court as a youngster,” Anderson says.
Anderson adds that the staff sergeant’s sacrifice still hits close to home for him.
“So many times, you just see in the paper and it doesn’t touch you,” Anderson says. “This one touched us very closely because it was a dear friend and a dear family and when it strikes close to home, it really means a lot.”
Jack and Elaine Atkins were greeted by a full honor guard including Rich English, but it didn’t stop inside. The family was driven home in a three-vehicle escort from the airport as people lined the road the whole way.
A hero’s welcome — one that Travis Atkins sacrificed everything for but never got to see.
“There’s a lot of nice guys out there and, in the military, hey — it’s incredible that these guys are still doing this,” English says. “It’s amazing.”
The number of American flags says it all.
Many of the veterans said as long as this memory is held and Travis is remembered, then that message will never be lost.
Reporting by Cody Boyer for MTN News