MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON, D.C. --
With Tropical Storm Andrea hovering over the nation’s capital, causing unpredictable weather by the minute, a certain detail of Marines knew the morning was going to be special, regardless.
On June 13, at Felix de Weldon’s famous Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., Daran Wankum, the most recent honorary Marine in Marine Corps history, was honored in a special wreath-laying ceremony, supported by Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.
Wankum’s story is one of courage, pain, trials and adversity, as the young man from a small town in Kansas with a genuine heart tried to chase his dreams and achieve his goals.
On April 2012, he signed his Marine Corps enlistment paperwork with the intent of becoming an infantryman, and later, a Marine officer after graduating from Shawnee Mission North High School in May.
However, in September of the same year, he was diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumor and soon underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, rendering him unable to serve in the Corps.
With the treatments underway, Dream Factory, a national organization with more than 50 chapters that fulfills the dreams of the seriously ill, contacted the Wankum family and proposed to make Daran Wankum’s fantasy come true.
“His only wish was to meet the commandant and the sergeant major of the Marine Corps,” said Cheryl Wankum, Daran’s mother.
Because of his ambitions and fighting spirit, Wankum was named an honorary Marine by Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. This was only the beginning of his week-long visit to Washington as a special guest of the commandant and the “Oldest Post of the Corps.”
“Honestly, it hit me really hard when I found out Daran was going to D.C. to meet the commandant,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Kempton, Wankum’s recruiter. “This shows what the Corps is all about and this is why I love it. I’m so proud and so impressed with everything [the Barracks] did.”
Shortly after being named an honorary Marine, the Wankum family made their way to the war memorial in Arlington. They were met at the pristine grounds by Col. Christian G. Cabaniss, Barracks commanding officer, Maj. David Wilemon, Barracks operations officer, and 1st Sgt. Charles Peoples, Barracks Guard Company first sergeant.
They started the ceremony after meeting and greeting the rest of the Marines, including an 8-man firing party to render honors with a 3-shot volley, Lance Cpl. Brian Rochelle, a body bearer, and Staff Sgt. Codie Williams, U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps ceremonial bugler.
Wankum and Peoples commenced the ceremony by marching up to the front of the memorial, where Rochelle stood, holding a decorated wreath with a “United States Marine Corps” ribbon in the middle.
“At that specific point, it was really tough to keep my military bearing because I felt a wave of emotion as I saw my brothers walking towards me,” said Rochelle. “It was one of the most touching experiences I’ve ever had.”
Once Wankum laid the wreath in the grass, still wet from the morning’s rain, the seven Marines standing 10 feet away, with loaded M1 Garand rifles, came to the position of attention. Cpl. Jack Woodworth then repeated the commands “ready, aim, fire” three times.
Williams ended the ceremony by playing taps, with everyone still rendering honors to Wankum and all fallen servicemembers.
When the ceremony ended, Peoples and Cabaniss presented a smiling Wankum with their challenge coins, leaving the honorary Marine nearly speechless.
An emotional Woodworth and his firing party then marched around the monument and gave Wankum the fired blank casings from their three-shot volley in a black, satin bag. They followed that gift with eight even more coveted gifts, emblems that are usually only earned immediately after making it through Marine Corps recruit training.
Woodworth asked a surprised Wankum to hold his hand out while his detail of Marines each unscrewed the gold eagle, globe and anchor from their covers. As the first emblem touched Wankum’s outstretched hand, tears and emotions came from nearly everyone present.
Wankum said he is incredibly humbled and honored for everything the Marines have done for him.
The family showed their great appreciation for the Marines with hugs, smiles and handshakes. They would see the Barracks Marines again a few days later during a Friday Evening Parade at the historical grounds of the “Oldest Post of the Corps” before heading back home to Shawnee, Kan.