SC guardsmen honored, buried

A community mourns

Thousands pay their respects to 2 of the guardsmen killed in Afghanistan

nophillips@thestate.com, mlucas@thestate.comJuly 2, 2012 

  • Third S.C. Guard funeral today The third S.C. Guard soldier killed in the June 20 attack in Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bradford Thomas, 30, of Easley, will be buried today. Services are 2:30 p.m. at Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley. Burial with full military honors will follow in Nine Forks Baptist Church cemetery. Flags across the state are to remain at half staff.

First Lt. Ryan Rawl and Sgt. John David Meador II shared a lot in life and in death.

Both graduated from Lexington High School. Both wrestled. Both worked in law enforcement. Both were married with children.

Both volunteered for the S.C. National Guard. Both deployed to Afghanistan in November with the 133rd Military Police Company.

Both died June 20 when a suicide bomber attacked their unit while they were conducting a security checkpoint in Khost, Afghanistan.

Rawl’s and Meador’s funerals were held eight miles apart, both at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The services drew thousands of mourners, who endured scorching heat to pay respects to the soldiers and their families.

In Lexington, hundreds of people stood shoulder to shoulder on a mile-long stretch of U.S. 378 to watch Rawl’s procession from the funeral home to Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church. Rawl’s casket was carried in a caisson pulled by two white horses, and his family and an Army honor guard walked behind it. Seventy-five Richland County Sheriff’s deputies who worked with Rawl led the procession.

People from all walks of life watched as the caisson passed, and they gathered along the 23-mile route from the church to the Pelion cemetery where he was buried. There were coffee baristas, veterans, mechanics, Boy Scouts, baseball players and housewives. An electrical crew used two cherry pickers to form a flag-draped arch over S.C. 6 outside Red Bank.

Louise Parker, Linda Scott, June Maranville and Jane Bennett lined up just after 8 a.m. for Rawl’s procession. Parker and Scott knew the Rawl family. Maranville came because Rawl went to The Citadel, where her son also graduated. Bennett is Maranville’s mother.

“I’m representing my son,” Maranville said. “He couldn’t be here, but he called to make sure I was going to be here.”

The women were torn over missing Meador’s funeral, which was taking place less than 10 miles away on St. Andrews Road.

“We wish we could all be in Irmo at the same time because J.D. graduated from Lexington also,” Scott said.

Before the procession, Bennett asked Parker and Scott if they needed flags.

Scott, who was holding an American flag on a wooden pole, replied, “No, I just need Kleenex.”

Patriot Guard motorcycle riders escorted both motorcades to their cemeteries.

“It’s important that all of us are here to show the family that their sacrifice was not in vain, that the American people appreciate what they have contributed to the defense of the nation,” said L.Z. Harrison, a Patriot Guard captain from Columbia, who rode with Meador’s motorcade.

‘He will always be one of us’

A crowd filled the Saxe Gotha church until people were standing along the walls and more were being directed to the church gym to watch the service for Rawl on a video screen.

More than 200 Richland County sheriff’s deputies joined scores of men and women in military uniforms. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson also stood in the sanctuary.

Rawl, 30, had worked at the sheriff’s department since 2005, and he joined the National Guard in 2006. He wrestled and played football at Lexington High, where he graduated in 2000. He graduated in 2004 from The Citadel, where he served on the Honor Court, a group of students tasked with upholding the school’s honor code.

Sheriff Leon Lott remembered Rawl as a rookie deputy, trying his hardest to look like a tough and serious cop while having his picture taken his first day on the job. Rawl had to fight off his smile, which came more natural than a stern look, Lott said.

After spending several years as a road deputy, Rawl asked to serve as a school resource officer because he wanted to help children and have a more stable schedule for his growing family, which included his wife, Katherine, daughter, Callie, and son, Caleb.

Rawl had a mischievous side, too, Lott said. He once sneaked into his captain’s office, sat in her chair and propped his feet on her desk to pose for a picture. He would hide copies of the picture for her to find. He also posed for a picture while riding a minibike in uniform on Super Bowl Sunday when he was supposed to be working.

“Lucky for Rawl, photos of these mischievous deeds are just becoming public and I never found out about it,” Lott said, drawing laughter from the audience..

Lott described Rawl as a great deputy and a great soldier.

“Rawl was one of us and he will always be one of us,” he said.

Jae Mattox, one of Rawl’s Citadel classmates, remembered the hot summer day the two met when they reported to campus as freshmen.

“He was one of only two who were actually excited to be there,” Mattox said.

Mattox closed his speech by asking other classmates to join him in reciting the Prayer of The Citadel. He then tapped his class ring three times on the lectern and said, “We love you, Ryan.”

Finally, Rawl was remembered as a devout man, who loved his family and worried about the soldiers he would lead into combat.

The Rev. Eddie Baker, a family friend, told about a family gathering at Rawl’s parents’ home a few days before he deployed. Baker and his wife prayed with Rawl.

Afterward, Rawl told the couple, “Thank you. But pray for my men. Whether I go and whether I come back is not as important as my men coming back.”

‘I still can’t believe it’

Hundreds poured into the Fort Jackson National Cemetery in Northeast Richland to honor Meador as he was laid to rest after a service at SeaCoast Church on St. Andrews Road.

As the hearse carrying Meador’s casket entered the grounds, people in the audience saluted. The graveside service included a 21-shot salute, taps and flag presentations to his family, including his father, John David Meador; his mother, Sharon Meador; and his brothers, James and Michael Meador. The flag draped over the casket was presented to his widow, Christy Campbell Meador.

Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr. the S.C. National Guard’s adjutant general, attended Meador’s funeral while his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Les Eisner went to Rawl’s service.

“Our soldiers are people who believe in something bigger than themselves,” Livingston said. “What these guys do is pure heart. They are trying to do the right thing. We protect the Constitution and our people.”

Meador, 36, not only wrestled for Lexington High School but he also coached the sport there and at White Knoll and Irmo high schools. He enlisted in the Army in 1994 and joined the S.C. National Guard after leaving active duty service. He was a member of the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and worked as a carpenter. He had three daughters.

Roy Turner, who coached Meador and Rawl when they were wrestlers at Lexington High School, attended both services Saturday with his family.

He could not bring himself to talk about what Meador had meant to him and the Lexington community so he turned to Meador’s teammate, Clay Cavanaugh, who was standing next to him.

“When I found out what happened to J.D., it wasn’t just like I had lost a teammate,” Cavanaugh said. “It was like I had lost a brother. I still can’t believe it.”

Cavanaugh, 36, of Pawleys Island, said Lexington’s wrestling team had been a tight-knit group, describing the camaraderie as “intense.”

“You spend every day training together and every weekend together. It’s like you’re in this fight together,” he said. “So because of that you develop a certain kind of kinship with each other that carries on throughout your life.”

Even though he and Meador had lost contact after high school, the two recently had reconnected.

“We caught back up and it was like there was really nothing lost,” he said. “To that I am thankful.”

Cavanaugh described Meador as a “fun-loving, cracking-jokes kind of a guy” with a strong work ethic, something that culminated his senior year when he won the state championship in wrestling. It also was something he could see taking shape in his friend as Meador later decided to join the National Guard.

“That just kind of summed up who he was,” he said.

Some attended Saturday’s service even though they did not know Meador.

Bill Early of Darlington once served in the same military police company and said he attended because it was important “to show respect. Just out of respect to the family.”

He said he had talked to others at the graveside service who felt the same way.

“They thought they would come because it is the right thing to do,” he said. “This is certainly a sad day for the family.”

Photographer Rob Thompson contributed.


Video: Funeral for a solider

Video by R. Darren Price

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307. Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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