Rylee McCollum was born on February 26, 2001. From the headlines of the Washington Post, “He was a baby on 9/11 […] now, he’s one of the lost casualties.”
Family and friends recall that Rylee had always dreamt of becoming a Marine. As a child he studied what it would take to become one. His sister, Roice McCollum said, “He spent all his time reading magazines and learning about it […] His passion was always the military.” His work ethic and drive were seen early in life through his other love, wrestling. His coach, Ben Arlotta, recalled that even as young as 5 years old he was a “spunky little roly-poly of a kid”.
He did what he needed to do to win and overcome obstacles, the standard traits of the finest Marines. His father remembered the quality of the boy they raised into a man saying, “Winning was always the goal, but Rylee knew […] that sometimes the greatest challenges are the ones we fight within ourselves. […] He always found a way to win those battles and become stronger.”
A native of Wyoming, Rylee graduated from Summit Innovations School in 2019 before moving on to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California to begin his dream of serving his country. His father said, “He thrived on the structure and rigidity.” He even returned to his former school to talk about his experience and how this had helped him through some tough times, hoping to inspire others who may have been going through their own struggles.
It was in San Diego that he also met his love, Gigi Crayton. They were very smitten with each other, and were known to laugh together often. They would say to each other, “You’re my favorite.” They were married this past February, shortly before he was sent to Jordan, and then on to Afghanistan to guard the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
In the early morning of September 14, 2021, Gigi Crayton gave birth to their daughter, Levi Rylee Rose McCollum, at Camp Pendleton in California.
“I lost my best friend, and nothing will ever make that hurt less.” – Gigi Crayton, wife of Rylee McCollum
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Photos courtesy of:
Rebecca Noble/News & Guide file and Denver Gazette