Marine marches on: Anderson man issued two Purple Hearts after surviving two attacks in Iraq

By Charmaine Smith-Miles
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On U.S. Marine Sgt. Travis Tollison’s right leg, just below his knee, is a line of 20 stitches that stretch for about 4 inches. That’s the reason that his leg doesn’t bend right now.

A wooden cane, leaning on the couch, is within grasp because of that unbending knee and two vertebrae in his back are sitting at an angle.

Those are also the reasons that he will now have some purple to wear on his uniform.

Just last week, the Marine Corps’ second-in-command paid the 32-year-old sergeant a visit. He came to award Sgt. Tollison two Purple Hearts for his service in Iraq.

“We got guys getting really messed over there,” Sgt. Tollison said, about receiving the awards. “To have him — the Marines’ assistant commandant — come down, that shocked me. I am just thankful to be alive and to have all my limbs.”

He’s thankful because he survived two attacks by Iraqi insurgents in the last month. One attack was from a high-powered rifle. The other was a roadside bomb.

On Tuesday, Sgt. Tollison, of Anderson talked with the Anderson Independent-Mail about why he wanted to be deployed to the Middle East and how he ended up on a plane bound for Bethesda, Md., on Aug. 2.

The first question was easy for the sergeant to answer.

For about 12 years, Sgt. Tollison has been a Marine. Most of that service has been spent training as a member of the Marine Corps’ infantry — the foot soldiers. The whole time he had trained. But his training had never been put to the test.

“For eight or nine years, that’s what I trained for and trained other Marines for,” Sgt. Tollison said. “Its like practicing for the team but never getting a chance to get in the game. I was excited to go over there. But at the same time, I was apprehensive.”

So on April 10, his wish was granted.

He was sent to Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps’ 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. They were stationed in Iraq’s Al-Anbar Province. And the first few months were routine for Sgt. Tollison.

On June 27th, the first attack came.

Sgt. Tollison and a squad of Marines were patrolling some streets on foot when they heard gunfire. Before they could figure out where it was coming from, Sgt. Tollison felt a thud to his back.

“It felt like somebody kicked me,” Sgt. Tollison said. “For about two seconds I was really scared. I could feel liquid running down my back.”

But the liquid turned out to be water from the canteen strapped to his back. A vest — specially made for military combat — stopped the high-powered round from piercing his back. He walked away with a bruise.

The second attack was different.

It was July 30th and during a patrol, a unit of Marines found a building stashed with weapons. Weapons for insurgents. Sgt. Tollison was in a convoy of Marines assigned to meet with the unit that would destroy the weapons.

But before the meeting could happen, the truck Sgt. Tollison and the 13 other Marines were riding in was hit by a roadside bomb, buried under a dirt road.

“The last thing I remember… I went to pick up the radio. And then it was lights out,” Sgt. Tollison said.

When he came to, he couldn’t feel his legs, and he heard the sound of yelling outside. He said the other Marines in the truck had escaped the blast and were screaming for him to get out of the blazing vehicle.

He climbed through a gunnery position at the top of the truck and flung his body over the side of the truck, he said. His fellow Marines helped him down from there, he said. From that battlefield, he was flown to another station in Iraq, then to Germany. On Aug. 2, he made it back to American soil when he landed in Bethesda.

Now he is on medical leave and has been allowed to spend it in Anderson with his family.

For the next four to eight weeks he will stay with his father, Daniel Tollison, at his home near Centerville Road and heal. But as soon as he’s able, he says he wants to be back in uniform. His mother, Joyce Moorehead, also lives in Anderson.

“My unit is supposed to be coming back in late November,” Sgt. Tollison said. “I want to be there when they come back.”