In early March Marine GySgt Diego Pongo’s family received the knock on the door that every military family dreads. Two Marines delivered the devastating news: Diego had been killed in action on March 8 during an operation against Islamic State strongholds in Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. Capt. Moises Navas of Maryland, also part of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was killed in the same mission.
Pongo’s family hasn’t been able to hold a funeral or memorial service because of coronavirus restrictions. While members of the Pongos’ hometown of Simi Valley, California have done what they could to support the family, such as organizing Meal Trains and sending cards, they wished they could do more. So when Diego’s sister-in-law, Andrea, announced on social media that she was organizing a surprise memorial parade and asked members of the community to decorate their vehicles in red, white, and blue and drive past her in-law’s house, they responded in a huge way.
Video courtesy Carol Gervasi
The parade began just past 10 a.m. Sunday with a flyover from a police helicopter followed by a procession of 50 first responder vehicles and 100 motorcycle officers. An estimated 1,500 cars passed by the Pongo residence over the next two hours, and hundreds of people lined the streets along the route holding signs and flags.
Rest In Peace Diego Pongo ❤️🤍💙 pic.twitter.com/t6NFGLBorl
— Nick (@onlybynick) April 26, 2020
Andres Pongo, Diego’s brother, told ABC 7:
“It’s been really hard, especially knowing that we haven’t been able to hold a funeral or any kind of memorial, and people keep reaching out to us, showing us their support and saying how much they want to be there for us.”
Through tears, Diego’s grateful parents thanked the people driving by.
Gunnery Sgt. Diego Pongo’s family thank participants in a surprise parade to honor Gunnery Sgt. Pongo and show support for his family. Gunnery Sgt. Diego Pongo was killed during combat in Iraq last month. @SVAcorn pic.twitter.com/Ogbq4GICOJ
— Richard Gillard (@acornrichard) April 26, 2020
This video, shared by Andrea Pongo on social media Sunday night, perfectly captures the spirit of the day.
The outpouring of support was just what the family needed. Here, Diego Pongo’s daughter, Avery, watches the vehicles passing by to honor her father.
GySgt Pongo’s awards and decorations include a Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, a Purple Heart, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons, the Army Valorous Unit Award, four Good Conduct Medals, two Humanitarian Service Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery once restrictions on gatherings have been lifted.