Pictured is Kassidy Johnson, 9, leaning on her dad, Jerry Johnson, near the rifle memorrial to her big brother Cpl. Jeffrey W. Johnson, who was killed May 11 in Afghanistan.
There was a memorial on Friday at Camp Pendleton for the 14 Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment who did not make it back from the 3/1's seventh month deployment to Afghanistan.
One of those Marines was a young man from Speedway, Indiana:
Sgt. John K. Rankel, a two-time Iraq combat veteran, had charged through machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades to reach his men pinned down at a haystack. When he got there, he flopped next to them and said, “Hey, I heard you need some help out here.”
That was classic John — always calm, recalled Matthew Howard, a former Marine who served with him: “Even under duress, he was always confident and easygoing.”
Rankel waited until his Marines ran to cover. He was shot on the way out and died in their arms.
When Lima Company later moved into the Safar area, they built a huge combat outpost and named it after Rankel. A few weeks later in late August, after another long day in the field, their company commander explained why.
His words were tinged with fury: “I made it five times the size it needs to be because Rankel was a big man,” said Capt. John Kenneley, now a major. “We pushed it right up against the Taliban because John Rankel feared no one. He was a damn good squad leader and he gave his life looking out for his Marines.”
Kevin Rankel flew in from Indiana to attend his son’s memorial with a large group of relatives. He had tried to talk John out of joining the Marine Corps straight out of high school. The boy had good grades and was a decent athlete, said his father, a finance executive.
No one in their family had served in the military, but it was soon clear that John Rankel found his calling as a Marine infantryman. “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do in life,” Kevin Rankel said.
About 30 Marines joined the Rankels for dinner the night before the memorial.
“It meant so much what we learned last night, talking with the kids,” the father said. “I shouldn’t say kids; they are men at the same time. They have gone through so much ...”
Again, props to Gretel Kovach who has been embedded with the Marines in Afghanistan and who filed this story for the San Diego Union-Tribune.