close HEROES OF KABUL: Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola wanted to help Afghans escape. That was his final mission Video

HEROES OF KABUL: Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola wanted to help Afghans escape. That was his final mission

This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the consequences of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It has been updated with new quotes and information as Dylan Merola’s mother remembers the Marine two years after he was killed while assisting with the evacuation.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — Dylan Merola was excited to go to 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.


Marine killed by Kabul airport bombing

Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola was one of the 13 service members killed by a suicide bomber at the Kabul airport in August 2021. (Deborah Gembara/Mana Rabiee)

“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.

Rex feels some details surrounding her son’s death and the chaos of the Afghanistan evacuation are still concealed two years later.

“As Dylan’s mother, I will say I will continue all my efforts into seeking answers to my questions that I have been asking for these last two years,” she told Fox News as the second anniversary of her son’s death approached. “I will keep pushing forward for the real investigation report to be unclassified.”

“I do believe when failures are made, those who were involved in those failures tried to close everything up so people wouldn’t know the truths,” Rex added, saying the play was “intended to avoid a repercussion of these failures.”

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon immediately returned requests for comment.

The California State Legislature passed a measure in 2022 to rename a Rancho Cucamonga overpass in Merola’s honor. A dedication ceremony and day of remembrance for all 13 service members killed in the Kabul airport explosion will be held there Saturday, which marks two years since their deaths.

“Our 13 deserve to be honored for their sacrifices, not only withdrawing from a 20-year commitment we held with the Afghanistan civilians to give them a life of freedom and education within their own country, but to always be remembered for saving lives,” Rex told Fox News ahead of the ceremony.

‘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.”

Merola poses in Marine fatigues

Merola grew up wanting to join the military, his family says. (Family of Dylan Merola)


“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 called Merola’s graduation a “defining moment.”

“He had a direction to go into. He had a purpose,” the grandfather 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.”


Merola taking notes in Marine fatigues

Merola spent his last moments helping a child get to safety before being killed by the ISIS-K suicide bomber, the Marine’s mother says. (Family of Dylan Merola)

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.


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.

Ethan Barton contributed to this report.

Matt Leach is a Fox Digital Originals senior producer based in Tampa, FL.

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