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Jackson Hole, WY News

Wyoming says goodbye to fallen Marine

Hundreds pay respects to Jackson native Rylee McCollum.

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Rylee McCollum service

Fellow Marines joined hundreds of Wyoming residents to bid a final farewell to Rylee McCollum at a Saturday memorial service in Jackson Hole, where he grew up, went to school and enlisted.

Among those attending were close to 60 fellow Marines, many of them members of the unit McCollum was serving with in Kabul on Aug. 26 when he was killed in action by a suicide bomber. McCollum was 20.

Ten other Marines, a U.S. Army soldier and a Navy corpsman died in the explosion as they guarded a gate at Hamid Karzai Airport during the final U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan. Twenty other service members were wounded.

Rylee McCollum service

American flags adorn a table at the memorial service for Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum.

McCollum was remembered Saturday as a kid who overcame obstacles, including growing from a "roly-poly" boy into a lean high school wrestler who managed to beat and befriend opponents from around the state.

He had told people since he was young that he wanted to be a U.S. Marine, but had to fight to overcome bad grades and nearly not graduating.

"We knew his potential, I knew he had the mindset," said Staff Sgt. Luis Diaz, who recruited McCollum into the Corps and was one of the Marines on hand to remember him. "I knew he had the spirit to accomplish anything he wanted."

Rylee McCollum service

U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Tori Kemper, casualty officer with the Inspector-Instructor Staff & Rifle Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, escorts Jim McCollum to memorial services for his son.. In her service as casualty officer, Kemper has worked closely with Rylee McCollum’s family through the grieving process since informing them that McCollum had been killed in action in late August.

McCollum was also remembered for his dedication and enthusiasm, for his humor and, repeatedly, by several, as what Cpl. Wyatt Wilson called "the dumbest smart guy I knew."

But, Wilson said, when there was a task to be accomplished, "I always grabbed Rylee because I knew it would be done right the first time."

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso attended. Barrasso called McCollum "the best of our nation ... who wanted to be a Marine from the very beginning." Gordon said Americans "should rejoice that heroes like Rylee are born."

Also attending were McCollum's father, Jim; his sisters, Cheyenne, Roice and Stephenie; and his wife, Gigi. McCollum's daughter, Levi, was born Sept. 13, 18 days after he was killed.

See Wednesday's Jackson Hole News&Guide for the full story.

Rylee McCollum service

First Sgt. Ricardo Lomeli of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, folds an American flag that would be presented to Rylee McCollum’s family during the Marine’s memorial services Saturday. For more see the Valley cover.

Contact Mark Huffman at 732-5907 or mark@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He's been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.

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