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Memorial plaque dedicated to fallen Marine, Navy Cross recipient on anniversary of his death in Afghanistan

Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, a Marine with the 1st Battalion/5th Marines at Camp Pendleton, was killed in Nawa, Afghanistan when a roadside bomb exploded in Aug. 2009.

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By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: August 29, 2018

COSTA MESA — Aug. 26, 2009 changed Carla and Jim Hogan’s lives forever.

It was on that day their 20-year-old son Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, a Marine with the 1st Battalion/5th Marines at Camp Pendleton, was killed in Nawa, Afghanistan when a roadside bomb exploded.

“It had an impact on our family and the direction our lives would take,” said Jim Hogan, 62, of San Clemente. “It really just changed everything.”

On Sunday, nine years to the day of Donald Hogan’s death, a bronze memorial — an exact replica of a Navy Cross citation — was unveiled during a ceremony at Heroes Hall in Costa Mesa. The hall, on the the OC Fairgrounds, is a museum and education center dedicated to the legacy of Orange County veterans and others who have served in the military.

About 40 people attended the event, including command staff from the 1st Battalion/5th Marines at Camp Pendleton, fellow Marines that served with Donald Hogan, as well as family and friends.

Gunnery Sgt. Juan Elizondo, a military dog handler who was on patrol with Donald Hogan and other Marines that night nine years ago, recounted the events that led to his death.

Hogan had volunteered for patrol to check on reported improvised explosive devices. He and Elizondo had passed by a specific location twice and neither they nor the dog noticed anything suspicious. But when Hogan observed a kite string on the road suddenly tighten, indicating an IED was about to be triggered, he pushed a nearby Marine out of the way and warned the rest of the squad.

Hogan was the only Marine killed that day.

Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, presented the Navy Cross to the Hogans at Camp Pendleton in 2012. The award is the Corps’ second-highest decoration for heroism in combat.

While the Hogans — Gold Star parents — are often acknowledged during ceremonies at Camp Pendleton, the Heroes Hall recognition also meant a lot to the San Clemente couple.

“It was just beautiful in it’s simplicity,” Carla Hogan said of the plaque. “It says everything you need to know about Donald and what he did. I’m not sure many people know what a Navy Cross is but they can read the story of his actions that day.”

For the Hogans, Sunday’s tribute also was an opportunity to be with their Marine Corps family and with some of the Marines their son saved that day.

“It was difficult seeing the act (of what happened) still had an impact on all the Marines,” said Jim Hogan. “As parents, we think of our loss. The Marines also lost that day. There was a Marine they couldn’t bring home. His company commander, his platoon commander and his platoon sergeant, all carry that today.

“The Marines he saved still mourn and honor him,” he said. “I think most civilians don’t understand that level of sacrifice because they’re not faced with that. Marines live with it every day.”

Since Donald Hogan’s death, his parents have stayed connected to the Marines.

In 2011, they founded Socks For Heroes, a nonprofit that provides socks to Marines on deployment. The couple came up with the idea after speaking to Marines and learning what they needed most. On deployments, Marines reported, they have to wash their socks in canals and air-dry them; with the socks constantly collecting sand and grit, they are unusable in a couple of days.

“It became a mission,” Carla Hogan said. “It was therapy for Jim and I, really. It was a way to stay close to the Marine Corps. It was a way to stay in touch with him.”

To date, the Hogans have shipped out 48 tons (475,000 pairs) of socks with help from groups such as the Mission Viejo Elks, Strategic Hotels and the San Diego Padres — the team has a sock-packing event planned for Wednesday, Aug. 29 at Petco Park following the baseball game.

Keeping their son’s memory alive through their charity and their outreach at Camp Pendleton has not only helped with their loss, the Hogans said, but has shown other Marines the impact of their own service.

“The biggest honor we’ve been paid was at a change of command ceremony when Lt. Col. Mark Carlton told us why we were important was that it reminds all the Marines when they go to war, they take a family with them,” Jim said. “That was important for them to know.”

But the tragedy has also left the Hogans with a new family.

“Everybody has two families, one is your blood and the other is from your heart,” he said. “That’s what the Marines are for us.”

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©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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