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This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the consequences of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan one year ago this week.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — Dylan Merola was excited to go Afghanistan, the Marine's grandfather told Fox News. The 20-year-old lance corporal had watched videos of the chaotic withdrawal and wanted to help people escape to safety.
It was the last conversation Warren Matsuoka had with his grandson. Merola was killed in the August 2021 suicide bomb attack on the Kabul airport.
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“If Dylan was here today, I would tell him how proud I am of him for just having the courage to join the Marine Corps,” Merola's mother, Cheryl Rex, told Fox News.
‘Live like Dylan'
Merola grew up smiling, always dreaming of following family tradition and joining the military.
“Growing up, Dylan was a very happy child,” Rex told Fox News. “He never let anything really bother him. He was always smiling and caring towards everybody around him.”
Merola's grandmother, Clarinda Matsuoka, said the California native always loved the military and dreamed of being in the armed forces.
“Growing up knowing that it’s God and Country, that was where he laid his thoughts,” she told Fox News. “He was very enthralled with every aspect of the armed services.”
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“I remember him running around with his little Nerf guns thinking he was a soldier,” Clarinda Matsuoka added. “He just would laugh, and he goes, ‘one day I'm going to be in the service.'”
Merola insisted on joining the military before going to college. He met with a recruiter when he was 17.
“Joining the Marine Corps changed my son from being that child to turning into a young man,” Rex told Fox News. After boot camp, “he came out a completely different person.”
Warren Matsuoka said Merola's graduation from boot camp was a “defining moment.”
“He had a direction to go into, he had a purpose,” Warren told Fox News. “He knew what he wanted to do, and he carried himself a lot differently.”
Rex recalled: “He was so proud. We were all so proud.”
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Merola was deployed in Jordan when he received notice he was being sent to Afghanistan to help with the U.S. troop withdrawal President Biden ordered.
“He was really excited to get the opportunity to go there, but we were all very concerned,” Warren Matsuoka said, recalling the final time he spoke with Merola.
Rex said: “He was so excited to go help a lot of other people to freedom and to safety.”
An ISIS-K terrorist detonated a suicide bomb at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021. Merola and 12 additional U.S. service members were killed in the blast, along with 170 Afghan civilians.
Rex said Merola had only been in the area for about 20 minutes before the explosion. She shared her son's final moments.
“He was bending over, picking up a child to safety,” Rex said.
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Clarinda Matsuoka said her grandson wanted others to experience America's freedoms.
Merola and his team “wanted to give people that opportunity to come to America and live like him,” she told Fox News.
“That's why we say ‘live like Dylan,’” she said.
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