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The memory of a U.S. service member who was killed in the 2021 Kabul airport attack was honored at Disneyland on Monday – nearly a year after he died.
Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, was a California native who was murdered in the Aug. 26 suicide bombing amid the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. 13 U.S. service members were killed in the attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport – which also killed at least 170 Afghan civilians and injured more than 150 others.
The Merola family was acknowledged during the Disneyland Resort Flag Retreat Ceremony in Anaheim, California. Merola’s family was in attendance, including his mother, his grandparents and his sister.
“It meant so much to me today to honor my son,” Cheryl Rex, Merola’s mother, said. “As he was growing up, we attended a lot of things at Disneyland. We had season passes since he was little.”
“It’s very meaningful. It’s a special place to us,” Rex added.
Family members say that Merola had only been in Afghanistan for less than two weeks when he was killed during the tragic attack.
The ceremony – which has been a tradition at Disney resort parks for decades – is held daily both at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Merola’s ceremony was not the only time the Walt Disney Company honored the service members who died during the Afghanistan withdrawal. They held a similar Disneyland ceremony for Hunter Lopez, a 22-year old Marine, in September 2021.
According to his mother, Lopez was a big fan of Disney. He reportedly told his parents he wanted to be buried with a lightsaber he made at Disneyland in 2019.
“As we walked into Disneyland, the marching band was coming out onto Main Street [U.S.A.] and started to play a Star Wars song,” Hunter’s mother Alicia told Disney Parks Blog. “We don’t know if it was Disney magic or whether it was Hunter, but either way it felt good knowing he was there with us.”