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Video: Marine Raider killed in Iraq honored by thousands in parade

Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo, a critical skills operator from Simi Valley, Calif., suffered fatal wounds while accompanying Iraqi Security Forces during a mission to eliminate an ISIS stronghold in a mountainous area of north central Iraq. He was 34 years old and assigned to 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. (Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Lynn Kinney, Marine Forces, Special Operations Command)
April 27, 2020

The family of a U.S. Marine killed in combat in Iraq last month were surprised on Sunday by a parade of thousands of people in honor of their fallen family member.

The family of Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo, who lives in Simi Valley California, were forced to postpone the memorial service for the fallen Marine after he died on March 8, as social distancing measures came into place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. According to the Ventura County Star, the Marine’s sister-in-law Andrea Pongo helped organize the parade with local police and fire departments.

The parade was led by a police helicopter flyover, followed by roughly 1,500 law enforcement vehicles, fire engines, and community members’ cars and lasted more than two hours. People from around the community also gathered along the sidewalk outside the family’s home while maintaining social distancing.

“It was a great show of support in our community,” said Simi Valley Police Department Sgt. Patrick Zayicek.

The event was also supported by California Highway Patrol Moorpark, the Ventura County Sheriff and Ventura County Fire Department, as well as an ambulance service, American Medical Response Ventura.

Pongo was one of two Marine Raiders killed in combat in Iraq on March 8, while on a mission to take out an ISIS stronghold. Capt. Moises A. Navas, was the other Marine killed during the mission.

Both Marines were members of 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Marines were part of a joint mission with the Iraqi Security Forces to eliminate the ISIS stronghold located in the mountains of north-central Iraq and were killed by enemy forces during the mission.

“On behalf of the Marine Raider Regiment and all of MARSOC, our most sincere condolences go out to the families of Gunnery Sgt. Pongo and Capt. Navas. The loss of these two incredible individuals is being felt across our organization, but it cannot compare to the loss that their families and teammates are experiencing,” Marine Raider Regiment Commanding Officer, Col. John Lynch said in a statement following their deaths.

“Both men epitomize what it means to be a Marine Raider. They were intelligent, courageous, and loyal. They were dedicated leaders, true professionals in their craft, and willing to go above and beyond for the mission and their team. They were not just leaders today, they were both on the path to be our organization’s leaders in the future. They were also family men, adoring husbands and fathers.”

Pongo became a Marine Raider in 2011 and saw multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan through his 11 years as a Raider. His decorations include 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.

Pongo was also qualified as an advanced sniper and foreign weapons instructor who was fluent in multiple languages, Lynch said.