MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This past Sunday, a small town in southern Colorado laid a favorite son to rest. Twenty-eight-year-old Travis W. Anderson was killed by a car bomb near Beiji, Iraq, on May 13th. The Army sniper was returning from a mission at the time. Eric Whitney of member station KRCC attended Anderson's funeral and sent this report.
ERIC WHITNEY reporting:
Army Specialist Travis W. Anderson was from Hooper, Colorado, population 125, at the foot of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains, far from any big city. The whole town and then some turned out for his memorial. At least 500 people crowded into the gym at Hooper Elementary School to honor him and share stories.
Unidentified Man #1: He wore a backpack and the dog rode in the backpack.
WHITNEY: Hooper sits on the north end of the broad, flat San Luis Valley, known for growing alfalfa, potatoes and beef cattle. Travis Anderson spent most of his life working on farms and ranches here and loved nothing more than being outdoors hunting for elk. His Army buddies called him Cowboy, but back home he was known as Loopy. Everybody in the valley knew him, both because he was so outgoing and because he was famous for getting in a little trouble now and then, says Anderson's cousin Clifton Curtis.
Mr. CLIFTON CURTIS (Cousin of Travis Anderson): It was shop class, and he was a pretty good welder. You know, his buddy's in the bathroom doing his thing, and Loopy ran a bead right up that door and welded him right in the bathroom.
Unidentified Man #2: He left in there a half a day, didn't he?
Mr. CURTIS: Oh, yeah. Finally, they had to get grinder out. He got in pretty good--big trouble, but he got him out of there.
WHITNEY: Anderson didn't really like school. He ran away from it as early as kindergarten. Half the town went out looking for him. When they found him, he said he was going off to live in the mountains. A few years later, he took off again, this time in a stolen car. He was found over the border in New Mexico and spent a little time in juvenile detention for that. And he dropped out of high school, but eventually went back and earned his diploma. His younger brother Cory remembers that Travis could be impulsive, but says everyone knew he had a big heart.
CORY (Younger Brother of Travis Anderson): Before my junior year in high school, I had broken my collarbone. I wasn't able to work, and my mom--see, my mom--you know, she didn't have a lot of money, so we kind of had to earn our own money to get our school clothes and school supplies. And when my brother found out about it--and he was working in Nevada at the time. And the kind of guy he was, he sent his paycheck home to me so I could have new clothes for school and school supplies. He was just great.
WHITNEY: Travis was widely admired as a skilled hunter and marksman, so no one was surprised when he joined the Army or that they made him a sniper. His commander says he was the best shot in the unit and a born leader. His oldest sister Toscha says there was no way anyone was going to talk him out of becoming a soldier and that he wanted to go to Iraq. But she says the valley won't be the same without him.
TOSCHA (Older Sister of Travis Anderson): You know, how are we ever going to have fun again or have a party again or have a Christmas again or anything?
WHITNEY: In his last letter to his sister, Travis Anderson said he didn't want people to think he was a screw-up. At his grave side, he was eulogized as anything but that. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in combat and buried with full military honors.
Unidentified Man #3: Ready, aim, fire!
(Soundbite of gunshots)
WHITNEY: Friends put a coyote hide and flowers atop Anderson's casket. He was then lowered into the ground in the sagebrush- and cactus-studded cemetery at the foot of the mountains he loved. For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Colorado Springs.
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