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Disneyland Resort Honors Fallen Hero in Special Flag Retreat Ceremony

The Flag Retreat Ceremony in Town Square at Disneyland park is a long-standing daily tradition to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. On Aug. 8, a special ceremony was held to recognize the late Lance Cpl. Dylan Ryan Merola, who was killed in action along with 12 other service members during the evacuation of Afghanistan one year ago.

Just before the ceremony began, a special announcement rang out:

“Today’s ceremony is a special dedication to a courageous United States Marine who gave his life last August while protecting the security of others at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan. His valor and ultimate sacrifice is recognized today with the Navy Achievement Medal. Join us as we salute his family and remember Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola.”

In attendance were Cpl. Merola’s mother, Cheryl Rex, his grandparents, sister, and brother Brandon, who days earlier graduated from the Marine Corps Boot Camp. Cpl. Merola grew up locally in Rancho Cucamonga and often visited the Disneyland Resort with his family. “It meant so much to me to honor my son,” Rex said. “Growing up, we attended a lot of things at Disneyland, and it’s very meaningful here. It’s a special place to us.”

Cpl. Merola’s family stood side-by-side as he was posthumously presented with the Navy Achievement Medal. “Receiving Dylan’s medal is very heartbreaking,” said Rex. “It’s hard knowing that I’m receiving it and not him.”

Ariel Elias, sourcing specialist and co-chair of SALUTE, the Business Employee Resource Group (BERG) dedicated to serving military cast members and families, helped organize the ceremony.

“Every cast member at the Disneyland Resort who is involved with veterans, friends and families of veterans, and event planning and operations knew that today was going to be special and put forth their best effort to really give the family what they deserve,” Elias said. “I was a Marine in Afghanistan, and this moment is something that I could really relate to and feel to the core of who I am.” Elias served in the military for 21 years before beginning his career at the Disneyland Resort.

Wellness Operations & Support Manager and SALUTE BERG member Liz Dunn also helped plan the ceremony. “We forget how precious life is, and these moments where we can stop and reflect are so important,” said Dunn, who has several family members in the military. “I remember when my brother went to Iraq, I had all these feelings of fear, pride, gratitude and honor wrapped up into one. Having the flag retreat ceremony dedicated to Dylan is a beautiful way of honoring his whole family and all their sacrifices.”

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