Family, pastors remember fallen Marine
Jan. 31, 2006
|A UMNS photo courtesy of the McGlothlin family
Lt. Ryan McGlothlin stands at ease during his deployment to Iraq last
year. McGlothlin, 26, was killed Nov. 16 while fighting in Iraq.
A UMNS Report
By Annette Bender*
Before Lt. Ryan McGlothlin became a war hero — before President Bush
lifted him up in a recent speech — he was an Eagle Scout who installed
the attic floor at Lebanon (Va.) Memorial United Methodist Church.
McGlothlin, 26, died Nov.16 during intense fighting near Iraq’s border
with Syria. Since then, the story of the Marine from Lebanon, Va., has
appeared in newspapers and TV news programs all over the country.
McGlothlin’s parents have not only conversed with the president’s
speechwriting team, they’ve been interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and
quoted in the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.
Ruth McGlothlin and Don McGlothlin are proud that their youngest son has
received so much worthy attention. But as any parent would understand,
the limelight pales when compared to the sacrifice that was made.
“He was such an exemplary young man,” says Ruth McGlothlin, a guidance
counselor at Lebanon High School and member of Lebanon Memorial United
Methodist Church since 1990. “I wanted him safe, but he wanted to be a
“Everyone sees Ryan as a fallen war hero, a super achiever,” says Don
McGlothlin, a former circuit court judge who practices law in Lebanon.
“But he was also a son, a wonderful friend to many. He was a very
spiritually mature person — much more so than I am. His faith in God was
McGlothlin’s story shows on a personal level the impact of the war — and a soldier’s sacrifice — on one family and community.
The newspapers and former pastors tell the story of a star student and
athlete who was influenced to join the military after the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks. McGlothlin was valedictorian of his high school
class, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of William & Mary.
He played football, wrestled and ran track. His two older brothers, Sean
and Nathan, also excelled academically and athletically.
“They were the dream of an all-American family,” says the Rev. Tony
Collins, who served Lebanon Memorial from 1996 to 2000. “Three handsome
young men. A father who was successful. A well-respected mother. They
were always at the church, very faithful in their attendance. I remember
Ryan as being very serious about what he was going to do in life.”
|A UMNS photo courtesy of the McGlothlin family
Ryan McGlothlin (right) is pictured with his older brothers, Nathan (center) and Sean.
When the Rev. Don Nation served Grundy United Methodist Church in the
Tazewell District, Ryan attended the church’s new preschool. Later,
after the McGlothlin family had moved to Lebanon in the Abingdon
District, Nation served as their pastor from 1990 to 1996.
Nation’s son, Will, was in Ryan McGlothlin’s Boy Scout troop. For his
Eagle Scout project, Ryan raised money and organized workers to install
flooring in his church’s attic space, his father remembers.
“All the family members are fine folks,” says Nation, now serving as
Tazewell District superintendent. The Virginia district is part of the
United Methodist Church’s Holston Annual (regional) Conference, which
includes East Tennessee and parts of Virginia and North Georgia.
‘The right reasons’
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 influenced McGlothlin’s decision to
join the military, according to the Rev. Mike Carter, the current
Lebanon Memorial pastor who spent an hour and 40 minutes talking with
the Marine before he departed for Iraq. Carter would later officiate at
the young soldier’s funeral.
“He wanted to talk to me about keeping an eye on his mother and praying
for him — and making sure he was making the right decision,” says
Carter. “He talked about the possibility of his death. He had everything
in place. He went for the right reasons. He went for liberty … But I’m
not sure he would have ever gone into the military if Sept. 11 hadn’t
McGlothlin’s father told the Los Angeles Times that his son was livid about the Sept. 11 attacks, “just furious that someone had attacked American citizens on our soil.”
In an interview with The Call, the newspaper of the United
Methodist Church’s Holston Annual Conference, Don McGlothlin says that
when his son made the decision to join the Marines, he asked him, “Ryan,
is there no other way to protect your country, without being shot at?”
Ryan said, “Dad, I’ve been born into privilege,” his father recalls. “Why should I ride on the backs of others?”
McGlothlin made similar remarks to his pastor. “He couldn’t understand
why the poor were always sent overseas to fight,” Carter says. “He said
it’s not their obligation to fight our wars for us.”
Upon graduation from William & Mary, McGlothlin won a doctoral
research fellowship in chemistry at Stanford University. His mother
hoped he would love what he was doing, “but I knew ever since he was a
little boy that he was drawn to the military,” she says, remembering how
he liked to play soldier. “He had a sense of duty.”
He had won an Army ROTC scholarship for the last three years of college,
but it was withdrawn after recruiters learned he had had a respiratory
illness as a child. His mother says McGlothlin had then worked even
harder to build his muscles and mind to convince the military he was
Two years into his doctoral program, after winning a medical waiver for
his childhood illness, he left Stanford for Marine Corps Officer
Candidate School, followed by six months of advance officer training. He
was the honor graduate in his class of 220 second lieutenants, his
Outpouring of support
It is painful for the parents as well as the pastor to recall the day
the Marines came to Lebanon High School to inform Ruth McGlothlin of her
Divorced several years earlier, Don McGlothlin, who had been notified
first, came to the school to be with Ruth, as did Pastor Mike Carter.
“It was a terrible day for all of us,” says Carter.
McGlothlin’s funeral was held at Lebanon Memorial. The crowd was so
large — locals as well as the media and Ryan’s friends from all over — a
satellite feed had to be arranged at the nearby funeral home. When the
funeral home was full, people stood outside on the sidewalk.
Ruth McGlothlin’s voice breaks as she speaks of the kindness of Lebanon Memorial members in the weeks following Ryan’s death.
“People brought food and flowers,” she says. “They’ve given us phone
calls and prayers. They housed the Marines and relatives who came in for
the funeral. They provided the technology for the service and the meal
after the funeral.
“They took over and they took care of us. They gave us everything – except the one thing I wanted.”
After the funeral, the family received a letter from Ryan, written five days before his death.
Ryan’s father draws on the letter to explain why he is willing to “share
the agony” with the media – an agony that was heightened when the
family learned Ryan gave his life while trying to shield his Marines
from gunfire and grenades.
“He chose the infantry because he wanted to fight evil,” says Don
McGlothlin. He explains that after arriving in Iraq, Ryan McGlothlin
became convinced that the war had to be won in order to help the Iraqi
“I know this war is not the most popular one back home,” Ryan wrote,
“but people must understand that to pull out before the Iraqi army is
fully ready to assume responsibility for the security of their own
country is not only irresponsible of us but would ensure the persistence
of terrorism. If you walk through these cities and see how terrified
Iraqi citizens are of the terrorists and how thankful they are that we
finally came to their cities, you could not possibly consider doing this
When the president’s speechwriters contacted the McGlothlins, they were
told that Ryan had not supported Bush in the elections. But the
speechwriters were faithful to the parents’ requests to report Ryan’s
story and perspective in context, Don McGlothlin says.
Bush even pointed out in his Dec. 13 speech that Ryan hadn’t supported
him, “... but he supported our mission in Iraq. And he supported his
fellow Marines,” the president said.
Bush also mentioned the poem carried in the former valedictorian’s
pocket at the time of his death –the same poem McGlothlin read at his
high school graduation. “It represented the spirit of this fine Marine,”
the president said. “The poem was called, ‘Don’t Quit.’”
The morning after the speech, the headlines said Bush had admitted
mistakes but defended his decision to wage war in Iraq. And other
stories told of the stellar young Marine from southwest Virginia,
resting in Ketron Memorial Cemetery.
*Bender is editor of The Call, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Holston Annual Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.