Washington – A Minnesota man accepted a posthumous Medal of Honor that President Donald Trump awarded to his father on Wednesday, recognizing the late Army staff sergeant for sacrificing his life in Iraq in 2007 to save a group of fellow soldiers.
Trevor Oliver, who lives in Coon Rapids, stood beside Trump in a somber White House ceremony as the president praised his father’s heroism. Oliver spoke only briefly, choking up as he recounted conversations in the last few days with the soldiers who were saved by his father, Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins.
“Everything you have said to me over the last few days has meant the world to me,” said Oliver, who is 22 and works at Target. “It changes my life.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., who attended the East Room event, called Atkins “a hero who went beyond the call of duty and gave his life to save his brothers in arms.”
Atkins, 31, who was from Montana, was on his second tour of Iraq. On June 1, 2007, he and his three-man squad from Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division responded to a report of a small group of suspected terrorists walking along a road in Abu Samak, an area known at the time as a hotbed for insurgents.
The squad located the suspected terrorists and began to walk toward them.
“As Travis began to search one of the insurgents, the man resisted,” Trump said during the ceremony. “Travis engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. As Travis wrestled to get the enemy’s hands behind his back, the man began to reach for something, and Travis knew what it was. He realized the man was wearing a suicide vest.”
At that point, Atkins wrapped his arms and entire body around the other man, and threw him to the ground away from his troops, standing just feet away.
“He put himself on the top of the enemy and he shielded his men from certain death,” Trump said. “The terrorist detonated his suicide vest and Travis was instantly killed.”
The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest award for valor. Atkins was previously awarded the second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross. A Pentagon review later determined that he intentionally sacrificed himself to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, leading to the Medal of Honor.
Trump recounted how, just days before the mission that led to his death, Atkins called his son to wish him a happy 11th birthday.
“Trevor didn’t know that he would speak to his dad for the last time,” Trump said. “But in the 12 years since, he’s always known that his father gave his life for our nation and his freedom.”
Oliver was joined at the White House ceremony by Atkins’ parents, Jack and Elaine Atkins, as well as other family members.
Also present at the ceremony were the three soldiers whose lives Atkins saved in Iraq. Oliver directed most of his comments to them, recalling how his dad loved to tell stories of his fellow soldiers.
“The medal is something I take a lot of pride in,” Oliver said. “But it’s your words that are the real prize, and what really means the most to me.”
He added: “I feel so close with you and to him with every story I get to hear. And I’m just — I’m glad that you got to enjoy his love and his energy.”