kabul airport attack

Thousands Pay Tribute in Procession to Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola Who Died in Afghanistan

Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, was among 13 service members killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

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The long journey home from America’s longest war is now over for U.S. Marine Dylan Merola of Rancho Cucamonga, the victim of terrorism in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday night, the community turned out in big numbers to say farewell and thank you.

At Ontario Airport, the ceremonial cleansing of the aircraft that brought home the remains of Merola, 20.

The Marine from Rancho Cucamonga was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan with a dozen other service members, including Kareem Nikoui of Norco and Hunter Lopez of Indio.

Neighbors lined the streets and freeway overpasses to observe Merola’s passing hearse and honor the native son.

“The fact something so tragic can bring people together is amazing,” said Brittany Wilcox, of Upland. “We have officers and deputies from really all over Southern California participating.”

The procession was also met by tremendous turnout at Forest Lawn Covina Hills where pallbearers attended to Merola's flag draped coffin and mourners bonded in the dark.

“As heartbreaking as it is, and it was, there was joy," said Anita “Gigi” Brinkman, of Walnut. "We’re all here as a community to show support to the family. That’s what we wanted to do. Show love.”

Added Arnika Hughes, of West Covina: “This is beautiful. I’m so sorry about the circumstances. But I want to tell Dylan’s family, 'Y’all are loved.' And to the other soldiers we lost as well? 'Y’all are loved.'”

Earlier on the San Antonio Avenue overpass, two men made sure the 13 flags they put up on the fence are secure for the emotional moment when the procession passed underneath on the 210 Freeway.

"It's a sad day," said Mark Bertone, an Upland resident. "I have a son who spent eight years of his life in and out of Afghanistan. Part of me feels blessed that I still have him with me."

Bertone came up with a plan with the city of Upland to close down the section of San Antonio Avenue.

"He's just a local kid from Rancho Cucamonga," he said. "You know we had another one in Norco and another one in Indio. You got these young kids -- 19, 20, 21 years old, they show up to work to help over a hundred thousand people escape the tyranny of the Taliban and they're gone."

Gary Hester, an Upland resident, said it's the ultimate sacrifice.

"I couldn't imagine," he said. "It's choking me up just thinking about it. I just can't imagine what their families are going through."

Added Bertone: "If this is what we have to do to pay honor to those 13 Americans that lost their lives, this is a small token we can pay to honor them."

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