Service members pass through on 900-mile trek to honor crash victims

Ruckers with the Marine Raider Memorial March travel down Highway 82 near Starkville Sunday afternoon on their way to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in memory of the 16 service members killed in a plane crash in Leflore County last July (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Ryan Phillips

The weather Sunday was a mixture of suffocating heat and thunderstorms, but it would have taken much more than that to put a damper on the Marine Raider Memorial March. 

July 10 marked a year since seven United States Marine Raiders and nine United States Marine Aviator crew members died when their KC-130T Hercules aircraft crashed in Leflore County, Mississippi while headed to pre-deployment training.

To commemorate the anniversary, 28 service members, with the help of seven support staff, set out on an 11-day ruck march from the crash site in Itta Bena to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. 

Individual teams split the ruck march across the 900 miles, with one team handing off the paddle and flag to the next group on Highway 82 near Starkville Sunday afternoon. 

When the two teams met, those who had finished marching for the day handed over the paddle and flag and were each awarded with a cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. 

The paddle is a symbol dating back to World War II, when Marine Raiders were issued a paddle along with other combat gear like knife and rope. 

According to Marine Raider Memorial March founder Nate Harris, Marine Raiders were a strike force who would carry their paddles everywhere. When a Marine died or left the service, his teammates would then take the paddle, sand it down, wrap it in parachute chord and the Marine’s accolades, and present it back to them or their family. 

“It’s a tradition that carries on to this day,” Harris said. 

The specific paddle carried for this ruck march to Camp Lejeune was handmade by an active duty Marine Raider from one of the same battalions impacted by the deadly crash. Engraved on the tigerwood paddle are the names of all 16 men and their unit logos. 

Harris the reflected on the mission of the march and the message they hope to send, saying “It’s just a part of that theme we are trying to bring home. Walking from the place they took their last breath back to the place they were based.”  

The faces on the individual teams may change, but the paddle and flag make the entire journey. During the march, ruckers carrying the red and blue Marine Raider Flag and packs weighted by sand bags along with the American flags draped over those killed. 

The sand bags are filled with soil from the cash site in Itta Bena and once the march is complete, the soil will be used to plant a tree at a memorial service at the Marine Corps Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune.
Monday’s first destination will see the ruck march move from Ethelsville, Alabama at 1:30 a.m. and conclude at the end of the day in McCalla, Alabama. 

While those marching through the area asked not to be named, one marcher emphasized the importance of putting the attention on the names of those lost in the crash. 
“It’s all about those names,” he said. 

Among those names is Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ryan Lohrey, who was married shortly before the crash and whose wife didn’t find out she was pregnant until after his death, according to Harris. 

“The biggest thing we are trying to do is put a name and human behind the numbers that were publicized,” Harris said. “Everybody knows there were 15 Marines and one sailor, we are trying to humanize them. There’s all kinds of stories behind these guys and by raising awareness, it helps the families heal.”

Harris then said the ruck march is fortunate to receive support from the communities it passes through, but to help, he said the best way is to provide marchers with cold water or Gatorade. 

“Feel free to stop by and hand them some cold water or stop at our support vehicle,” Harris said. “If people are willing to help out, they can buy T-shirts, patches, professional photos, and can also make monetary donations.” 
To learn more about the Marine Raider Memorial March or to donate, visit