Write it Down
By: Kristi Stolzenberg, Editor, TAPS Magazine
Karl Porfirio, surviving father of SrA Tre Porfirio, U.S. Air Force, was not a writer by trade when he sat down to write My Daddy’s Heart is Purple, but his dedication to honoring veterans and preserving his son’s memory earned him the title of children’s book author in 2018.
While stationed in Afghanistan, Tre was shot in the abdomen, severely injuring his pancreas — the organ responsible for producing insulin. Thanks to the rapid response from the team in country, Tre, then 21, was routed back to the U.S. and made medical history as the first person ever to receive an islet-cell transplant due to trauma.
Though it was an uphill battle punctuated by many surgeries, the innovative procedure allowed Tre to live one year and one week after sustaining his injuries. It allowed him to be there when his son was born. His son, Landon, was just 8 months old when Tre died on Nov. 28, 2010. Since then, Karl — or Nonno as he appears in the book — has poured his heart into his relationship with Landon and the book he would go on to dedicate to him. Karl wrote My Daddy’s Heart is Purple to teach children, including his grandson, about service, sacrifice, and honor — specifically the Purple Heart. And, it helps surviving children understand the difficult concept and permanency of a parent dying.
Through his grief, Karl found his legacy — the book that will forever honor his son and support his grandson and generations of military children and surviving children anxious to learn about their mothers and fathers who sacrificed for their country.
TAPS Youth Programs
TAPS supports all those grieving the death of a military or veteran service member, including young survivors. To learn about all the opportunities available, visit TAPS Youth Programs.
By: Noriko Stern, Surviving Spouse of CWO4 Christopher Stern, U.S. Navy, Ret.
I laced up my hiking boots and strapped on a 10-pound backpack as I started my walk from Saint-Jean-de-Port. The sky was sunny and blue, with no clouds in sight, as I started my ascent 10 miles up the Pyrenees mountain. The Camino Frances is a 500-mile pilgrimage and has been walked by thousands of pilgrims before me. It is believed the body of the Apostle St. James is buried in the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela where my journey would end.
The walk does not have to be religious — anyone who feels the need to walk this trail can do it, no matter the reason. My reasons were self-reflection and the meaning of life. When my husband, Chris, passed away by suicide in August 2018, I had so many questions about life. I moved in October 2018 to be closer to my daughter, and before long COVID closed everything down. During that time, I withdrew and looked inward in search of answers — answers I knew I would never find. What is life? And how do I live it without the only person I loved? I had to learn to walk again…alone.
Four years later, as the grief fog lifted, I wanted to challenge myself — to do something out of the ordinary, for me. So, I attended a meeting with my local Camino chapter. After that first meeting, my mind was made up. I knew in my heart I had to make the pilgrimage for myself. I needed to get my self-confidence back, even though I was scared to face the world alone.
On the Camino, the rural landscape suited me — from the open space of the meseta to the valley, where fields of yellow rapeseed flowers covered the ground and church steeples climbed into the sky in the distance. No matter the weather, you walked every day, for this was the only task at hand — to walk.
People from all over the world come to walk the Camino. Germans, Italians, French, Dutch, Chinese, South Koreans, and Canadians were all part of my life on the Camino. They became part of my journey — my Camino family — embracing me with a warm heart, a hug, and always a beautiful smile. It was this spirit that I loved! It allowed me to be me — my authentic self.
I finished the Camino after 31 days. It was a rainy, windy day as I walked into Santiago de Compostela. Soaked to the bones, but grateful for this day and the opportunity to be in this place. There is always an end to a journey, but I felt this was just the beginning — a beginning to my future.
The Camino did not answer all my questions about life. Instead, it taught me things about myself. I am strong and courageous, and I know now that it’s OK to be afraid.
TAPS offers a variety of retreats, experiences, and physical challenges throughout the year that can help you honor your fallen hero while finding your own way after loss. Find opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone, travel, and heal with TAPS in 2024 by visiting TAPS Events.
Carry the Legacy
By: Dianne Layfield , Surviving Mother of LCpl Travis Layfield, U.S. Marine Corps
My son, U.S. Marine Corps LCpl Travis Layfield, was killed in action while serving in Iraq on April 6, 2004. Travis was killed in an ambush along with nine of his Marine Corps brothers and one Navy corpsman during the Battle of Ramadi. Travis was only 19 years old.
After losing my son, I was so afraid that he would be forgotten as time slipped by. And, since his passing, I have worked tirelessly to honor Travis and ensure his service and sacrifice are remembered. In 2014, my efforts led me to Kelly Estes, founder and CEO of The Cost of Courage Foundation. We connected through the mutual desire to honor fallen heroes of all generations and carry their legacies forward. Kelly founded her nonprofit in honor of her uncle who was killed in action during the Doolittle Raid in WWII. In her uncle’s name, The Cost of Courage Foundation sponsors scholarship and emergency assistance programs for veterans, service members, and Gold Star Families, and in 2019, she shared the remarkable idea of funding the LCpl Travis Layfield Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship would directly support a Gold Star Child, Spouse, or Sibling in completing their education so they could go forward and make a positive impact.
This opportunity gave me a way to honor Travis and keep his memory present — exactly what I hoped I could do. Elated, I gave my blessing for the scholarship to proceed that year. Since 2019, four LCpl Travis Layfield Memorial Scholarships have been awarded to deserving recipients who have gone on to pursue careers in the medical field, law enforcement, social work, and public health, and the fifth annual scholarship will be awarded by the time you are reading this, in November 2023.
Being a part of the scholarship selection committee allows me to read through all of the applications and essays that we receive from Gold Star Family members nationwide. It’s an honor, and I am always deeply touched by the stories of the applicant’s own hero and how their loss has impacted their career aspirations and educational goals.
With so many wonderful applicants, it can be challenging to choose one who most closely embodies Travis’ legacy. But, we are so proud of those who have been selected — they truly made the most of the opportunity, and they keep us updated on their progress over the years. Our scholarship recipients truly become part of our family, and we are forever connected through Travis.
This scholarship has helped me positively channel my grief. Just being given the chance to have a scholarship in my son’s name is truly incredible, but knowing applicants think of him as they write their essays assures me that he will never be forgotten.
I cherish the moment I am able to meet the annual scholarship recipient — either in person or virtually — and come together through shared grief that only a small percentage of the population understands. Though everyone’s journey is different, the underlying pain Gold Star Families experience is shared. If connecting through this scholarship and sharing my story provides comfort to a surviving family member who is grieving, there would be no greater blessing in my son’s name. Thanks to Kelly and The Cost of Courage Foundation — and to TAPS for sharing our scholarship opportunity — Travis’ memory and legacy will live on.
TAPS Education Support
To learn more about the LCpl Travis Layfield Memorial Scholarship and the many other scholarships available to surviving family members, visit TAPS Education Support.
What We Set Out to Do
By: Katie Davis, Surviving Sister of SSG Brandon C. Franzen, U.S. Army
On July 17, 2019, SSG Brandon C. Franzen passed away surrounded by his loved ones, at the Ohio University Wexner Medical Center, after a long battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was just 34 years old, and he’d spent 12 of his years serving in the U.S. Army.
Our mom, Cathy, would tell you that Brandon was an avid dinosaur fan, and he loved Mario and online gaming, tattoos, performing bike tricks, riding four-wheelers, and attending rock concerts — especially Iron Maiden. He could be very stubborn, but he was hardworking and so smart. He loved his sisters — including me — and he lived to protect them — including me. And, he would help anyone in need. We love him and miss him every day, and I was determined to honor my brother in a way that would bring awareness to PTSD and PTSD-related suicide among veterans and service members.
I’m Katie Davis, Brandon’s sister. In July 2020, I organized the 1st Annual Brandon C. Franzen Memorial 5k Run/Walk, and by August 2020, I established the Brandon C. Franzen Memorial Foundation, Inc. The foundation, or BCF, as those of us at the heart of operations call it, brings awareness to the PTSD crisis and the toll it takes on the mental health of our service members. We believe that if we can save one life, then we have honored SSG Franzen and his service and sacrifice for the country he loved so much.
BCF has become a source of healing for my family. I work alongside my mother, sisters (Tiffany and Lisa), and my husband, Nathaniel, to raise funds that we donate on behalf of BCF. Our focus — as a growing nonprofit — is making our annual 5k as successful as possible. This year’s race was our most successful, and we met our goal of 200 participants.
This year’s race was especially meaningful for me, not as the proud organizer, but as a participant. I was the first one to cross the finish line, with a time of 21:59. I cried tears of victory as I crossed the finish line, and I was greeted there by one of my former 4H advisors who held me in a big hug as the moment sunk in.
It fills me with pride to witness special moments along the route for many participants. Lisa and Nathaniel carried American flags across the finish line for our fallen soldier. Girl Scout Troop 9400 volunteered and walked the course. Spunky Clovers 4H, handed out finisher medals. And, in an inspirational moment, participant 4224, an elderly gentleman determined to cross the finish line for our veterans, completed the race with great pride and excitement.
We have participants finish our race who have never completed a 5k. I’ve seen them cry, overcome with emotion, as they cross the finish line. Veterans, service members, suicide-loss survivors, and citizens — we all come together on race day to honor SSG Brandon C. Franzen and be a presence for military-connected PTSD. We’ll soon begin planning our fifth 5k, which will be held on July 20, 2024, and we would love to run alongside members of our TAPS Family.
Brandon, we love you, we miss you every day, and we will never stop fighting for your legacy. If we can save one life, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.
If you are looking for a special way to honor your fallen hero, consider joining Team TAPS to participate in races and special events nationwide. You can also apply for Fallen Hero Match if you’d like a Team TAPS member to honor your hero in a race. Find out more at Team TAPS.
Photos courtesy of Dianne Layfield, Katie Davis and Pexels.