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We celebrated the fourth of July this year at one of our friend’s house, it was great. They had lots of friends and relatives come over and mingle in the back yard, there was music, dancing and barbecuing involved. The food was great and the mood was pleasant, people told stories of other fun times and good memories they had. My oldest daughter played with the other kids who were there and had a blast, my wife met with some of her friends and had fun to. At the end of the night we watched the fireworks light up the night’s sky. For most, the fourth of July is nothing but another holiday. For some, it’s a day they’re happy to have simply because they won’t have to go to work. But the people who know the real meaning of this day, understand the hard work, dedication, courage, pain and suffering that made this day even possible. I used to be in uniform on the fourth of July, my best memories of that holiday were the ones spent with my family and alongside those men and women in uniform who have been putting their lives on the line since the beginning of our great nation. We stand today as the greatest and the  most free country in the world because of the sacrifices of our fallen comrades Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen and they are still to this day the concrete foundation that supports our nation’s integrity.

It took time to get us to where we are today, but they never deterred, never stopped fighting– and they never stopped dying. As we proceed with our regular day-to-day lives through the end of July, let us not forget the ones who died in the countless battles of our past, let their names never be forgotten and their memories always remain in our minds and heart. To First Sergeant Luke Mercadante and Kyle Wilks, my close comrades…….. You will not be forgotten.

By Erick Castelin Jr

Mercardante joined the Marine Corps April 22, 1992, and was trained as a military policeman, joining Combat Logistics Battalion 24 on April 15, 2007. He was promoted to the rank of first sergeant on Oct. 1, 2006. His decorations include five Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, five Good Conduct Medals, Iraq Campaign Medal, Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, two National Defense Service Medals, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two Drill Instructor Ribbons, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

 title=Mercardante lived outside of Camp Lejeune with his girlfriend, Kimberly Hull. The two were planning to marry when he came home from Afghanistan. “He loved his family very much. That was one of the things that I loved so much about him,” she said. “He was just so compassionate … he was an incredibly loving and honorable man…. The last thing we said to each other is ‘I love you,’ and I’m so grateful for that.”

Mercardante’s sister, Bridget Clark, quoted an email in which Mercardante wrote: “I want no person to ever feel sad or pity for me or my Marines as we endure hardship and sacrifice, as this is our calling, with the unknown outcome being that of God’s master plan.”

In addition to his children and his sister, Mercardante is survived by his parents, his stepmother, and three brothers. The family invited Patriot Guard to honor the life and service of Mercardante by escorting his body from the Athens airport on Sunday. The Patriot Guard was also present at the funeral home visitation today and will attend the funeral on Tuesday.

1st Sgt. Luke Mercardante, right, congratulates 2nd Lt. William E. Harley upon his commissioning last May as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (VMI photo by Kevin Remington)


May he rest in peace.


Wilks joined the Marine Corps Sept. 7, 2004, and was trained as a Military Policeman, joining Combat Logistics Battalion 24 on April 10, 2005. He was promoted to the rank of corporal May 1, 2007. His decorations include the Good Conduct Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Kyle Wilks joined the marines so that he could help people and serve his country, but when his unit first left Iraq, he had to stay behind because of a health problem. He later felt guilty when he learned that the soldier who took his place was killed by a roadside bomb. Now that Wilks has died in a similar manner, his uncle Steve Wilks says, “It’s just a lot to grasp.”

Steve Womack, the mayor of Wilks’s small town of Rogers, Arkansas, said: “These conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced several thousand fatalities, but the full impact of those losses cannot be truly measured or felt until it hits us close to home.”

 title=Those who knew Wilks say that people would notice him first because he was so tall (six foot two), but also because he had a big smile and could strike up a conversation with anyone. The outgoing Wilks played trombone in junior high and played football when he was a sophomore in high school. He graduated in 2002. “I think a lot of kids that age have a hard time meeting people if they are not of their own age group, and he was able to talk to just about anybody,” Steve Wilks noted. Another uncle, Terry Mudd said, “He was just an outstanding young man that my daughters and grandchildren looked upto.”

Rogers police sergeant Kelley Cradduck, who attended the same church as Wilks, said that one reason he joined the marines was to further his goal of becoming a police officer: “We talked a lot about how military experience would help him get a law enforcement job. He was really looking forward to that opportunity.”

The only son of Randall J. Wilks and Kathy A. Wilks, Kyle is also survived by his sister, MaKayla. On her Facebook page, MaKayla wrote that she was lost without her “bubby”: “i miss him soo much and love him!! i don’t understand but i know God has a reason. to all military and families, share with each other your love and never take it for granted.”

At the family’s request, the Patriot Guard provided an escort from the airport to the funeral home today, will provide a flag line and attend the services on Wednesday, and will provide an escort to the cemetery after the services.

May he rest in peace.








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