I AM: Proud--Warrior Spotlight: Boyertown Grad Army Pvt. Travis C. Zimmerman


G.I. Joe, the military Bear Fever bear, "stationed" at Fairview Cemetery was sponsored by members of the community, dedicated to Travis Zimmerman. 

Submitted by Betty Zimmerman

Travis Zimmerman, of New Berlinville, Pennsylvania, was only 19 when he joined the Army. Fresh out of high school, Travis went to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, later followed by duty in Iraq in an area known as the Triangle of Death.

When Betty, Travis’ step-mother who raised him from a young age, questioned Travis, “My God, you’re joining the Army right now during wartime!?” Travis replied that he knew we were at war, and that’s why he was needed. And so, he went.

At only 19, Travis was initially teased in the Army for being so young; however, he stood his ground and was then respected by the group he served. Now, his friends from the Army have become lifelong friends with Betty and her husband, Lloyd.

Travis was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky. At the airport on his way to Iraq, after goodbyes to Betty and Travis’s father, Travis called Betty back for a hug so big and hard he picked her off the floor. He asked Betty to hold onto his class ring, in which Travis had mounted Betty’s birthstone instead of his school colors because he knew how important doing well in school was to Betty.

One day Travis called Betty and asked her to send him some medical supplies like bandages because the ones he had in Iraq didn’t work well. They didn’t stick and weren’t big enough. He told Betty that his arm got infected from an immunization. Betty ran to the store and packed up wound care supplies including tape, gauze, cleaning supplies. As it turns out, Travis was actually grazed by a bullet.

While in Iraq, the United States rented a house for Travis and his team. One night the owner’s cousin came to the house. Since he was the owner's cousin, the team didn’t think twice. However, the Iraqi set up an improvised explosive device (IED) just outside the house. No one noticed the IED until Travis stepped on it and detonated it as they were leaving the house for night-time reconnaissance. Travis arrived in Iraq on February 22nd and died April, 22nd of the same year.

It was 11 o’clock at night when the knock came to Betty and Lloyd’s door. Betty was home for the evening, but Lloyd was at work about 25 minutes away. The CACO officers, due to the policies at the time, weren’t permitted to tell Betty anything about Travis- a rule that Betty later fought and got changed. Now, the rule is if a soldier is living at home and unmarried and there’s a stepparent, either father or mother, who has been living in the home, they now have the right to be informed. Betty wanted to ensure that no other person would have to go through that same pain she felt, knowing, but not knowing about her beloved Travis.

And that’s not the only rule that Betty got changed. In December of the same year that Travis was killed in action, Betty received a phone call from the Navy asking for Travis to join. Betty, upset that Travis already had given his brave life, asked for a supervisor and eventually went as high as she could until the branches of the military now coordinate with each other to avoid such a mistake again.

Betty was and still is clearly a pioneer for Gold Stars, as Travis died very early in the war on terror. Getting the branches of the military to cooperate due to new policies she was able to get enacted was one of Betty’s greatest accomplishments, protecting other Gold Star families.

Betty learned firsthand that a soldier’s death is not private. She learned first-hand how the media can be so information-hungry that they are “stealing your tears away from you.” But fortunately, the small-town community pulled together for a fundraiser, raising funds from all over the world to memorialize Travis. Standing in the town of Boyertown is a fiberglass military bear, saluting, among other bear statues throughout the town. Betty’s goal is to eternalize Travis’s memorial by creating a bronze bear, saluting. Travis’s monument will help us all remember Travis’s courage and dedication.

Betty stated that it was during the Michael Strange Foundation Weekend Workshop that she was first able to actually cry. She cried so heartfelt that she never wanted to cry like that again. When Charlie asked Betty if she would be coming back in 2024, she apologetically told Charlie she wouldn’t be coming back. It was just too hard. Now, however, Betty is planning on attending next year’s Weekend Workshop recognizing that she, including many other Gold Star families, is in need of the healing that the Michael Strange Foundation provides.

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