‘God bless our hero’ — Remains of fallen Marine brought home to Jackson
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JACKSON — Hundreds of locals and tourists lined the streets of downtown Jackson Friday evening to honor one of the 13 U.S. service members killed in the Kabul airport attack.
Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, was killed in August when he was manning a checkpoint in Afghanistan. He was helping the evacuation efforts.
A suicide bomber and gunman attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror.
McCollum got married before he left on his first deployment. He was sent to Jordan then to Afghanistan. His wife is currently pregnant with their first child.
McCollum’s body arrived from the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware by a private charter to the Jackson Hole Airport Friday evening and was driven by a hearse. He was then escorted by police, firefighters, military, veterans, and motorcyclists.
Crowds in downtown Jackson held up signs that said “Remember the fallen” and “God Bless our Hero.” Nobody will ever forget Rylee.
“He was very hard-working, he was very driven,” said Ben Arlotta.
Arlotta was Rylee’s wrestling coach growing up in Jackson. He’s known Rylee since he was 6-years-old.
“He was always a jokester. That was the biggest thing. He walked into any room looking to make someone laugh, looking to make someone smile,” he said.
“Rylee meant a lot to this community,” Arlotta continued. “Really, the last reports of what went down in Afghanistan — it speaks directly to who that kid has been his entire life. He had the opportunity to come back on the other side of the wall and he said, ‘No we are going to stick around and save some more folks.’ And that’s exactly what he did and that’s the type of person Rylee is.”
Arlotta has been helping the McCollum family since McCollum passed away. Though he knows the family won’t be the same, he says they are doing the best they can. The McCollum family has expressed their gratitude many times to the community.
“I mean, they are a family shattered, they are a family broken. They are a very, very close family. Jim’s (Rylee’s father) a single parent. He raised all three of those kids by himself and when you remove a variable from that equation, it just doesn’t balance out anymore. Anybody would understand if you’ve ever lost a sibling or someone close to you, it changes you forever,” Arlotta said.
The McCollum family is planning to have a funeral for Rylee next month after his wife gives birth to their baby.
The other U.S. military members killed in the Kabul airport attack ranged in age from 20 to 31, and came from California and Massachusetts and states in between.