By: Mary Ann Koenig | The Newsweekly
On a hot July afternoon in 2005 two uniformed officers came to the door of Laura Youngblood’s brother’s house. She was visiting him in New York.
Back in Illinois, her house was prepped for a homecoming. Her husband Travis Youngblood would be returning from Iraq soon, and she already had the “Welcome Home” signs up.
But that day, she saw the two officers and knew immediately why they were there.
The Sebastian resident had met her husband in boot camp. Theirs was a love story defined by life in the military and upon Travis' tragic death. Laura's coping with the loss of the man who gave up everything for his family.
As time passed and the Indian River County Veterans Council became aware of her story, Laura joined up with the Next Gen Vets, happy to be part of group that understood what it means to serve their country and what that sacrifice might entail.
Laura and Travis were both Navy corpsmen, they fell in love despite the military designs to keep that from happening.
Attached to the Marines at Camp Pendleton, in California, stationed just a few hours from Las Vegas, they eloped on New Year’s Eve 1999, going into a new millennium. They found the last available room on the outskirts of the Vegas Strip. “Free hot dogs at 7-Eleven,” Laura remembers. They had a weekend, that’s all.
Then they returned to duty.
The couple was sent to Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Laura and Travis worked in the same clinics supporting base personnel; pediatrics, allergy and immunization, and a variety of other services.
Friends would show up at their house to be treated by the two corpsmen. “We’d hang IV’s from the chandelier,” Laura says.
Soon she was pregnant. Travis wrote to her parents, a letter that Laura’s mother gave her years later. She’s read it many times. “I love your daughter with all my heart,” Travis wrote. “Laura is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, I look forward to spending the rest of my life with her.”
Her parents gave them a proper wedding back home in Long Island, N.Y.
Their son Hunter was born, and Laura got out of the military, staying home with him. Travis re-enlisted and was assigned to shore duty at the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Ill.
Then their world, like many in the military, was forced into a reckoning that few saw coming. September 11, 2001. All hands would be needed.
Travis called Laura from home one day and told her she’d received a letter recalling her to the military, but he said, “Don’t worry, I took care of it.”
He had volunteered to go to Iraq, so that Laura wouldn’t have to return to active duty. “He wanted me to stay home with Hunter, it was a priority for him.”
Back at Camp Pendleton, with a two-day pass, Travis met Laura in Las Vegas before he shipped out.
“The place we were married and the last place I saw him,” she remembers.
A few weeks later she discovered she was pregnant again.
Attached to a reservist unit, 3rd battalion, 25th Marines from Columbus Ohio, Travis shipped out in February, 2005.
“He was 6-foot-4, doofy and hilarious,” says Laura. “One of the best corpsmen you’d ever meet, he never let pressure get to him. The Marines loved him.”
That July, Laura and Hunter went to New York to join her brothers for a camping trip. Laura was nearly eight months pregnant, but ready for the adventure nonetheless. While on that trip, a neighbor called to say she’d seen two service members at the Youngblood’s house in Great Lakes.
“They called me and said Travis was hit with an IED (improvised explosive device), but he’s OK, he’ll call me later,” she remembers.
The call never came.
Four days later, on July 21, there was still no concrete news. She awoke at 3:30 a.m. with an overwhelming feeling and began trying to find Travis. “I called the (military) hospital in Landstuhl Germany.” But he wasn’t on the roster. “Then I called Walter Reed,” she says. “He wasn’t there either.”
That afternoon the two uniformed officers appeared.
“They walked in the door, and I think I remember hearing the word, ‘sorry,’ but that was it,” she says. “I collapsed on the floor.”
Travis Youngblood was supposed to be home for the birth of his second child, a girl. But he was killed by a roadside IED in an Iraqi town called Hit. Initially, the report was that he’d lose just his foot, but he’d also taken shrapnel in the neck, and with internal injuries, it was too late.
Members of his unit said Travis yelled out from the evacuation helicopter, “Don’t get another corpsman, I’ll be back!”
Laura never returned to the house in Great Lakes, with the homecoming signs and the baby crib set up. Her neighbors packed and shipped their belongings to New York.
Travis was buried at Arlington. Westboro Baptist protestors showed up that day, so officials brought Laura and Hunter through a back entrance, avoiding their hate-filled attacks.
Emma Levy Youngblood was born on Sept. 26, 2005. In Travis’s last letter he’d given his unborn daughter her name.
Laura stayed at her brother’s house for over a year. “I can’t remember two years of my life,” she says. “I was living off fumes.”
Laura’s parents had retired to Micco in 2004, and eventually she and the children settled in Sebastian. She got a nursing degree at IRSC and is currently finishing her BS in nursing there.
Members of Next Gen Vets, the IRC Veterans Council young Veterans Group learned about Laura and her family through a contact at the Council, and they came to Hunter’s birthday party a few years ago.
Laura joined Next Gen Vets shortly after.
“It’s nice to be around people who understand the things I’ve been through, and no matter what, we all have respect for each other and honor each other’s service to our country,” she said.
Hunter is 17, Emma now 12.
“Travis was always calm and collected,” says Laura. “He just had an ease to him. It’s not the way he died that should be remembered, it’s the way he lived.”