Dozens of fellow U.S. Marines joined hundreds of Wyoming residents to bid a final farewell at a memorial for Rylee McCollum, one of 13 U.S. service members killed in a suicide bombing as they guarded a gate at a chaotic Kabul airport during the final U.S. evacuation from that country.
Many of the Marines were members of the 20-year-old McCollum’s unit serving in Afghanistan when he was killed on Aug. 26. McCollum, a Marine lance corporal, grew up, went to school and enlisted for the Corps in the mountain valley area known as Jackson Hole, home to the town of Jackson. He was honored during Saturday’s Jackson service attended by more than 400 people.
“We knew his potential,” said Staff Sgt. Luis Diaz, who recruited McCollum into the Corps. “I knew he had the mindset. I knew he had the spirit to accomplish anything he wanted.”
McCollum was a dedicated Marine, enthusiastic and funny, said Cpl. Wyatt Wilson. When something had to be done, Wilson told the Jackson gathering, “I always grabbed Rylee because I knew it would be done right the first time,” the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
Ten other Marines, a U.S. Army soldier and a Navy corpsman also died in the explosion as they guarded a gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Twenty other service members were wounded, and dozens of civilians were killed.
Mourners remembered McCollum as a “roly-poly” boy who became a dominant high school wrestler, a young man who always told people he wanted to become a U.S. Marine.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, who attended with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, said Americans “should rejoice that heroes like Rylee are born.” Gordon ordered U.S. flags in the state to be flown at half-staff to honor McCollum, who died in his first deployment.
On Sept. 13, Jiennah Crayton, McCollum’s widow, gave birth to a girl, Levi Rylee Rose McCollum. Online fundraising efforts have raised over $1 million for the baby’s education and mother.
McCollum’s widow, his father, Jim, and sisters Cheyenne, Roice and Stephenie attended Saturday’s service.
McCollum died almost 20 years after the death of another Wyoming soldier drew national attention. Army Ranger Spc. Jonn Edmunds, 20, of Cheyenne, was one of the war’s first two casualties when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed Oct. 19, 2001, during a search-and-rescue mission.