This article was originally written by Erika Ritchie and appeared on The OC Register.
Carla and Jim Hogan were overwhelmed: They didn’t expect to feel so emotional.
The San Clemente couple was recognized Friday by Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division in a special ceremony at the 1st Division Headquarters. The event marked the end of an ongoing partnership between the Hogans and the Marines after the death of the Hogans’ son, Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan, in Afghanistan in 2009.
“It was like my family telling me, ‘Thank you.’ It was really touching,” Carla Hogan said.
The couple, who founded Socks for Heroes after their son’s death, handed over a final sock donation to the division’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson. The Hogans used the group to improve the lives of Marines deployed in austere environments. Since June 2011, the group has sent some 336,000 pairs of socks to Marines and sailors in Afghanistan.
“I know from time to time you are recognized for the good contributions you make,” Nicholson said. “This time on behalf of the division, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for this great organization that you have built.”
Jim Hogan told the gathering how much his son loved being a Marine, and thanked them for the honor. He added that thousands of others helped collect socks for the Marines and sailors.
“Our support group isn’t a nonprofit group or a company.” he said. “We’re just a couple of parents.
“Donald viewed every Marine as his brothers and sisters. We view them as our sons and daughters.”
Donald Hogan, a member of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, was killed in a roadside bomb blast in Sangin on Aug. 26, 2009.
His parents said they put together details from the official report and from Donald’s fellow Marines after they returned.
He had volunteered for patrol to check on reported improvised explosive devices. When he observed a kite string on the road tighten, he pushed a nearby Marine out of the way and warned the rest of the squad. Donald, 20, was the only Marine killed that day.
Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, presented the Navy Cross to the Hogans at Camp Pendleton in 2012. The award is the Corps’ second-highest decoration for heroism in combat.
The Hogans needed to stay connected to the Marines, and asked Marines what they needed most. Marines told them to send socks. On deployments, Marines had to wash their socks in canals and air-dry them; with the socks constantly collecting sand and grit, they were unusable in a couple of days.
“It became a mission,” Carla Hogan said. “It was therapy for Jim and I, really. It was a way to stay close to the Marine Corps. It was a way to stay in touch with him.
“We weren’t ready to give that up. I don’t know what we would have done, if we hadn’t had that project to fill the hole. It’s been an amazing journey for Jim and me. We’re just blessed.”
After 13 years in Afghanistan, Marines from Camp Pendleton are out. The 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., replaced the Camp Pendleton Marines and will leave by the end of the year, the last infantry unit out.
Carla Hogan talked with pride about her son – pride in his decision to join the Marine Corps and pride in his sacrifice in Afghanistan.
She said she and Jim didn’t know Donald had joined the Corps until a call from his English teacher who’d heard he’d joined up. Confirmation came when Donald called his parents on his bus trip home after his induction into the Corps. Carla Hogan was devastated; it was right before the troop surge.
But, she said, “Jim and I realized he had made the most important decision of his adult life. To do something disparaging to stop his decision would harm him.
“After we were told, I realized it wasn’t about my life; it was about his life. I raised him to live a life, and this was the life he chose.”