March 21, 2016 -- A little over a year ago on March 10, 2015, seven Marine Raiders and four Louisiana Army National Guard soldiers lost their lives in a tragic helicopter crash off the coast of the Florida Panhandle. On March 10, 2016, 14 Marine Raiders from Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command met in Navarre, Fla., for a memorial service to honor their fallen brothers in arms. Following the memorial service, on March 11, 2016, the Marine Raiders began a 770-mile ruck-march from Navarre, Fla., to Stone Bay aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The Marine Raider Memorial March was designed to honor the seven Marine Raiders who died on March 10th, 2015 and their families, as well as bring awareness to their sacrifice. The ruckers were made up of both active duty and former Raiders, family members, and close friends.
A few of the Marine Raiders chimed in on why they wanted to be a part of the ruck and the motivation that carried them through it.
“On this march we have several active-duty Raiders, we have Marines that were there during the infancy and creation of MARSOC, there is a 16-year-old high school sophomore, and there are two incredibly strong women. And everywhere we go communities have come out to greet us, at all hours, night and day. This Memorial March is about family,” said one of the participants.
Another continued saying, “why am I doing this you ask? Simple. I want to honor those we lost and the families they left behind. Although I only had the privilege of knowing one of the team members, I can tell by the character of the fellow Raiders I have spent the last couple of weeks with and the level of commitment and perseverance they have displayed, that the men of 8231 were some of the finest this country has to offer.”
For some, the ruck was about the opportunity to honor and show support to not only the fallen Raiders but their families as well.
“As for why I'm doing this, Liam's daughter, Leilani, is my biggest motivation. As she grows up, I'm confident she will know what an amazing man and warrior her daddy was, but I want her to also understand how important he was to me and so many other people. And finally, as Liam watches from above, I want him to see how his family will always be loved and looked after by his brothers and their families who remain here on earth. The family aspect of the Raider community is one thing that sets us apart from so many others and prevails during this time where we honor our brothers and friends,” said one of the ruckers.
Along the way the ruckers were met with an overwhelming amount of support from local communities. Fellow service members, law enforcement officers and civilians went out of their way to meet the ruckers and march with them. Others helped provide logistical support, from medical supplies to helping provide fuel for vehicles. At the same time the Raiders had the opportunity to inspire the younger generations they met along the way.
“When I grow up I want to be a Marine. My uncle used to be a Marine. I want to serve the people who served to keep me safe and my country safe. I want to save those people who saved my country and me. I would love to be a Marine,” said Jeremiah McNeely, a young child who stayed up to midnight to show his support by waving an American flag as the ruckers marched past him.
Once the Memorial March made it to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Stone Bay, there was a short ceremony where the fallen were honored and the paddle that was recovered from the wreckage was presented to Lt. Col. Craig Wolfenbarger, commanding officer of 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, to be kept in their hall of honor.
Wolfenbarger quoted a former speech given by Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, “It behooves us who remain to rededicate ourselves to the tasks that lies ahead. The convictions of these comrades are our convictions. With the memory of their sacrifice in mind let us dedicate ourselves into brining into reality the ideals for which these men died, and not let their sacrifice be in vein.”