Saturday, June 02, 2007

Travis Haslip laid to rest

Memorial Day services for a local soldier killed in Iraq drew hundreds of people who came to the funeral home to hold flags in the midday sun, lined overpasses waving signs of appreciation and stood solemnly under shade trees at Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Pfc. Travis Haslip, 20, was a laid-back person who liked to keep a low profile, and "he wouldn't have known what to say" about the outpouring of support, said Derek Blevins, Pfc. Haslip's friend since childhood.

On Monday morning, more than 300 motorcyclists -- about 70 Patriot Guard riders and several other groups -- came to Heritage Funeral Home on East Brained Road. They circled the building holding American flags as friends and family gathered for the service.

Joey Hughes wore a Marine Corps T-shirt and stood near the front entrance. In the Marines from 2002 to 2006, he was recently recalled. He has orders to report in October and will deploy to Iraq, he said. Mr. Hughes came out to hold a flag in honor of a soldier he never met, he said, because "I think this young man deserves his proper due."

Sgt. 1st Class Kendra Biggs, who served in Iraq with the Army Reserve in 2004 and 2005, was driving down East Brainerd Road to do some shopping Monday morning when she saw the people lining up with flags outside the funeral home. She called her husband, Brack Biggs, and told him they needed to come help.

The couple brought their 10-month-old baby, and Mr. Biggs stood on the grass at the edge of the parking lot holding an American flag while his wife and baby stood in the shade nearby.

"We just wanted to let the family know that they are supported," Sgt. 1st Class Biggs said.

Pfc. Haslip and five other soldiers were killed May 19 when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle in Baghdad. After joining the Army in December 2005, Pfc. Haslip was assigned in June 2006 to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. Four months later, he left for Iraq.

In the funeral home Monday afternoon, a slide show showed Pfc. Haslip as a boy, with blond hair and a broad smile. There were images of the young man standing in his baseball uniform next to Looie the Lookout; with his older sister, Rachel, at a wedding; blowing out candles on a birthday cake with his grinning friends standing around him.

The service in the funeral home chapel drew a crowd that filled the seats, lined the walls and flowed out into the hallway. Pfc. Haslip's friends and family remembered him as a warm person who always had a hug for his mother and a smile for his friends. During two weeks of leave in March, Pfc. Haslip brought home slides from his time in Iraq and told stories about the people he had met there. He was particularly affected by the Iraqi children, whom he felt were innocent victims of the conflict, said Pastor Jose Nieves.

Though members of Westboro Baptist Church sent out a release last week saying they would picket the funeral, there was no sign of the group at Monday's services. The Kansas-based church espouses the belief that God is killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq in retribution for the sins of the United States.

The Patriot Guard began in Kansas in 2005 with a group of motorcyclists who revved their engines to drown out the protesters at a soldier's funeral.

Hundreds of riders, along with law enforcement officials, escorted the funeral procession for Pfc. Haslip as it made its way down the interstate to Chattanooga National Cemetery. On overpasses and at intersections along the way, people stood holding flags and signs thanking the soldier for his service and sacrifice.

April Roark, whose father is buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery, brought her children, Braden, 5, and Alec, 13, to see the service for Pfc. Haslip.

"I'm just sad that he died," Alec said. "But it's good that he fought for our country."

Standing nearby, Eddie Ivester, a Vietnam veteran whose parents are buried at the cemetery, came to the service because "I just wanted to say 'Thank you,' " he said.

Small American flags decorated each grave in the cemetery, placed there Saturday in observance of Memorial Day.

As the hearse arrived and the military honor guard moved to unload Pfc. Haslip's flag-draped casket, dozens of motorcyclists lined up in front of photographers and used their bodies and flags to block the cameras. The riders said Pfc. Haslip's family had asked them to obstruct the media, but Mike Barbree, the assistant state captain of the Patriot Guard, said the riders were "overzealous." Photographers were on the opposite side of the road from the service, and should not have been impeded, he said.

"I hate that this happened," he said. "This is not what we're about."

Reed Brown, a veteran who came to see the service for Pfc. Haslip, watched as motorcyclists put their clothing in front of a news photographer's lens and kicked at her as she tried to take a photograph from the ground.

"These people are here to tell a story about someone who gave his life for his country," Mr. Brown said to the riders. "You ought to be ashamed."

From the Times Free Press

Related Link:
Travis F. Haslip dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'