Fallen Marine Dylan Merola, killed in Kabul bombing, honored with procession through hometown
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — When he was a student at Los Osos High School, Dylan Merola wore black and red during school theater productions.
On Tuesday evening, Sept. 21, Merola’s casket passed by his Rancho Cucamonga alma mater, draped in red, white and blue.
A procession honoring Marine Lance Cpl. Merola wound its way through the city and past his high school, enroute from Ontario International Airport to Forest Lawn cemetery in Covina.
Merola, 20, was one of the 13 U.S. service members killed in the attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26. Two other Marines from the Inland Empire, Lance Cpl. Kareem Mae‘Lee Grant Nikoui, of Norco, and Cpl. Hunter Lopez, of Indio, were also killed in the suicide bombing. Eight more Marines, an Army soldier and a Navy Corpsman were also killed in the attack, along with 169 Afghan civilians. At least 150 more people were injured in the bombing.
A crowd of about 400 gathered outside Los Osos High with American flags, Marine Corps flags and one or two pro- Donald Trump flags. Most were quiet and serious as they waited for the procession.
It arrived just as the sun set. Police cars from across the region took part, including cruisers from Banning, Beaumont, Colton, Corona, Fontana, Menifee, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, West Covina and others, followed by motorcyclists on Harleys.
A Los Osos marching band member played taps as the hearse drove by.
Many wiped away tears.
Albert Estrada, a retired Marine colonel and Rancho Cucamonga resident, came out with fellow members of VFW Post 8680 to say farewell to Merola.
“It’s important to honor our fallen warriors, whether they be Marine, Navy, Army or Air Force,” Estrada said. “They gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Hamilton Alvaranda, an Iraqi war veteran from Rancho Cucamonga, brought his children to see the procession.
“Because of people like him, we are able to enjoy the freedoms that we have,” he said.
Earlier on the route, the procession passed Caryn Elementary School, where red, white and blue balloons were tied to the fence. U.S. and Marine Corps flags were attached to trees and light poles.
Along the east 210 Freeway, some drivers stopped their vehicles and parked near the median to await the procession.
At a Sept. 2 Central Park memorial vigil, Merola’s mother, Cheryl Rex said her son always wore military attire as a child.
“He wanted nothing more than to become a Marine,” Rex recalled that night.
Merola had been stationed in Kabul for less than two weeks and was planning to go to college and study engineering, according to Rex.
Merola, a 2019 graduate of Los Osos, worked as a theater technician as a student. At the vigil earlier this month, Los Osos teacher Randy Shorts described Merola as a “shy, always smiling” student in his theater class who always dressed in a black shirt and red tie while leading tech for school performances.
“Dylan wanted to join the Marines because he wanted to learn discipline, and to make a difference,” Shorts said.
Merola’s funeral is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 26, at 2:30 p.m. at Forest Lawn mausoleum, 21300 Via Verde St., Covina. The funeral is open to the public, but Merola will be buried afterward in a private service.
Merola is the third of the three California service members killed in the Kabul airport attack to be laid to rest. On Saturday, Sept. 18, Nikou and Lopez were buried in Riverside, after funerals and memorial services in Riverside and Palm Springs, respectively. All three Marines will receive posthumous Purple Heart medals, along with 27 other service members killed or injured at the airport, the Pentagon announced Sept. 14.
Rancho Cucamonga will honor Merola at a future City Council meeting with an Armed Forces banner display, embellished with a gold star, according to Rancho Cucamonga Mayor L. Dennis Michael.
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