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Janet Manion, founder of foundation to support veterans and their families, dies at 58

Janet Manion, who established a leading nonprofit foundation that supports veterans and the families of fallen troops in honor of her son, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in Iraq, died April 24 at a hospital in Doylestown, Pa. She was 58.

She had complications from cancer, said her husband, Tom Manion.

Mrs. Manion was a force in the veterans-assistance community, said Bonnie Carroll, president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an organization known as TAPS that collaborates frequently with the Travis Manion Foundation.

“She was so selfless in caring for all those who were hurting, making sure they could find comfort, hope and support,” Carroll said.

Founded in 2007, the Travis Manion Foundation has endowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in fellowships and scholarships for wounded and disabled veterans. Through TAPS, the Travis Manion Foundation has also sponsored grief and bereavement seminars for the families of fallen service members.

Janet Manion, who established a leading nonprofit foundation that supports veterans and the families of fallen troops in honor of her son, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in Iraq, died April 24 at a hospital in Doylestown, Pa. She was 58. (FAMILY PHOTO)

Mrs. Manion and her husband, a retired Marine Corps Reserve colonel, were hosting a barbecue at their Doylestown home when the doorbell rang on April 29, 2007.

Mrs. Manion answered the door and encountered a Marine in a crisp olive uniform. She immediately slammed the door in his face, shutting it so hard that she broke its lower hinge. She began screaming.

She was informed that her son, a 2004 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, had been killed by sniper fire during an ambush outside Fallujah, Iraq.

During a ceremony in 2008, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the current commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, presented Manion family members with their son’s posthumous Silver Star — the military’s third-highest award for valor.

According to his citation, Lt. Manion was killed after exposing himself to enemy fire to drag wounded comrades to safety during the surprise attack. “His courage and deliberate actions” the citation reads, “ultimately saved the lives of every member of his patrol.”

In the weeks after her son’s death, Mrs. Manion began receiving checks in the mail. She collected the money and started the Travis Manion Foundation. She said she was inspired by her son’s words before he left for Iraq: “If not me, then who?”

“During one of our final phone conversations, Travis said to me, ‘Mom, America does not know how good they have it and all the good the young men and women over here are doing for them. They need to know,’ ” Mrs. Manion told the online publication AroundMainLine in 2008.

“After Travis’ death, I kept hearing those words over and over, that conversation in my head,” she added. “And, I thought to myself, I have to do something to carry on that message to others, but also to continue Travis’ legacy.”

One of the programs that Mrs. Manion helped organize was a charity race in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since 2008, the 9-11 Heroes Run has attracted tens of thousands of participants. Last year, more than 35 cities around the world hosted a 9-11 Heroes Run.

Jannette Marie Lemma was born Jan. 13, 1954, in West Chester, Pa. She was a homemaker before starting the foundation.

As a Gold Star parent — those with a child who died in combat — she served since 2011 on an Arlington National Cemetery advisory commission to provide independent oversight of the burial ground.

Survivors include her husband of 33 years, Tom Manion, and a daughter, Ryan Borek, both of Doylestown; and two granddaughters.

After his death, Lt. Manion was buried in a cemetery outside Philadelphia. In 2010, his Naval Academy roommate, Navy Lt. Brendan Looney, was killed in Afghanistan, where he was leading a Navy Seal unit. The men were such close friends that they referred to each other as brothers. In October 2010, Lt. Manion’s remains were moved so that he and Lt. Looney could be buried side by side in Arlington’s Section 60.

“I’ll be at peace knowing that he’s with his brother, together” Mrs. Manion told the CBS Evening News in 2010. “I know that’s where he wants to be.”

For comfort, Mrs. Manion often wore her son’s dog tag on a necklace, where it lay close to her heart.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.


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