"We said, 'Travis, why do you want to join the military? You have an education. You have no college debt. You can go right into life.'
"And he said, 'Mom, why am I so lucky? I want to give back.' "
Since Morgado was killed in Afghanistan on May 23, Andrea Velasquez Kessler has been flooded with memories of her beloved son. They include that discussion about his choice to serve his country.
Today, the Edmonds woman and her family will be at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where a memorial ceremony will honor 2nd Lt. Travis Alan Morgado. A 2005 graduate of Meadowdale High School, he was part of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Joe Kubistek, a spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said Tuesday that along with a memorial ceremony in Afghanistan "we hold one here for the home-stationed community, both on base and off base, to gather and pay their last respects, and recognize a soldier for the sacrifice they have made."
Kessler said Monday she hadn't received an official investigation report. She has written to lawmakers seeking answers. According to the Department of Defense, Morgado died in Zharay, Afghanistan, after insurgents attacked his patrol with an improvised explosive device.
Morgado, 25, graduated from the University of Washington in 2009 with a degree in civil engineering. He moved to San Jose, Calif., after college to stay with his father. Kessler and Joe Morgado were divorced and are both remarried.
"He wasn't ready to do the 9-to-5. He wanted to think about it, to not be in school, and to hang out with family," Kessler said of her son, who planned to look for a job in California with his father's construction company.
Along with his mother and his stepfather, Dean Kessler, Travis Morgado is survived by his father and stepmother, Joe and Nancy Morgado; brothers Eric, Carlos and Connor Morgado; and sisters Sofia Kessler and Ana Morgado.
After college, he began to seriously discuss joining the military. The family talked with a relative who was in the Navy. Morgado's heart was set on the Army.
Kessler tried to talk him out of it. As a retiree, her father was a Peace Corps volunteer. "He was in Honduras in the Peace Corps. He wanted to see his grandson do that, too. I told Travis, 'There are so many ways you can give back,' " she said. Still, her son wanted the challenge of the Army.
Even as a boy, she said, Travis looked out for others. She remembers that quality from all the times he played with his brothers and friends on their Edmonds cul-de-sac.
"They were always out playing. It was hockey -- they all had Rollerblades -- then baseball, then football. They all looked up to him," Kessler said. "He always put himself on the underdog teams."
Morgado was a "minimalist," she said, who didn't have many possessions. All he needed fit in a backpack. He was funny, and known to tease his siblings. "And he loved to eat. He had a huge appetite," Kessler said.
He also loved reading. When he was 10, Kessler gave him the novel "Jurassic Park."
"He had memorized the names of every single dinosaur," she said. When he read the book, he told her that "some of the dinosaurs aren't even from the Jurassic period."
It was November 2010 when Morgado left for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Then it was on to Fort Benning, Ga. After he finished officer candidate school, Kessler learned he had chosen Army Infantry. "I was heartbroken. He had a civil engineering degree. I couldn't understand," she said.
Kessler said she and her husband opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "He knew our views," she said.
When he was killed, Kessler said, her son had been in Afghanistan less than three months, on his first deployment. They were in contact frequently. "He was a platoon leader. He said it was kind of primitive, but it wasn't too bad. He was supposed to come home at the end of November," she said.
Since her son's death, Kessler has been given letters he wrote to a friend, a young woman he had met on a plane.
One letter may have reflected a change in his views. According to Kessler, her son wrote to his friend: "We are fighting without a purpose, you cannot kill an idea, and yet everyone here is still willing to fight."
Kessler feels that many Americans have forgotten about the men and women still at war. "Many in our country don't pay attention to important issues. I think most don't even know Afghanistan is a war zone," she said. "People in that area have been fighting for thousands of years."
Kessler's thoughts about U.S. foreign policy won't keep her and all of Morgado's family from honoring him today at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. She is grateful that many of his childhood friends traveled to San Jose for his funeral. "He seemed to touch a lot of lives," Kessler said.
There is little comfort for this grieving mother. She keeps telling herself one thing.
"It's the mantra I've been saying since the moment I found out," she said. "He was doing what he wanted to do."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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