That’s Dylan’s truck, in case you’ve ever wondered about it.
The shiny red, patriotically decorated ’97 Ford F150 on the grassy corner at the only stop sign along Freedom’s quiet main street and visible from Route 65?
That’s Dylan Elchin’s truck.
Dylan bought it in 2012, freshly graduated from Hopewell high school and Air Force basic training in San Antonio, TX. Later that same year he wrote on social media: “Happy veterans day. A big thank you to all those that have paid the ultimate price for freedom many take for granted.”
His grandfather, Ron Bogolea, 76, of Freedom, kept Dylan’s truck after his grandson paid that ultimate price just six years later. On Nov. 27, 2018, in Afghanistan, Dylan was embedded with a U.S. Army Special Operations team. Two Green Berets died with him when an improvised explosive device detonated near Ghazni province.
Dylan, just 25, only three months before had been awarded an Army commendation medal with valor among other awards for his fearless and selfless action in combat, twice risking his life to save everyone in his Special Ops attachment on Aug. 12, 2018, just days after arriving in-country.
The military brought his truck back to his family on a flatbed. What followed was a heart-crushing country song come to life.
Dylan’s truck would become a catalyst for his grandfather’s profound grief for the boy he so loved and had a major hand in raising. It led Ron to create and plan a variety of memorials throughout the county honoring our Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) casualties, and targeting young people savvy with electronics and QR codes to learn about and appreciate who they were.
On this Memorial Day, Ron will drive Dylan’s truck to dedicate a Freedom memorial placard near the borough war memorial at 9 a.m., and then to Beaver’s Memorial Day Parade, starting at 10:30 a.m.
“With Dylan’s death, it inspired me to honor his memory,” Ron said. “And I soon learned that there were eight other men (who served in the GWOT from Beaver County) who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“Maybe they’re honored in individual communities, but just as a name on a stone. I was inspired to make those men more than a name on a stone,” Ron said, pausing to regain his composure.
“So I met with the families of the boys and they gave me photographs of them as from little kids through teenage-hood, Scouts, band, and in the military and I created a storyboard for each one with his civilian and military life, and I wrote a short blog of their civilian and military life.”
Their stories will be accessible instantly all over the county – and indeed, all over the world.
Dylan’s truck and GWOT memorials
Ron kept everything that Dylan left inside his truck: the candy wrappers and Bluetooth speaker, the fishing lures in the truck bed, the various receipts in the dash that tracked Dylan’s path from Texas to further training in Florida to New Mexico, where he deployed to Afghanistan as a Special Tactics Combat Controller in August 2018.
Some of Dylan’s things are still in the truck. The rest Ron will never get rid of on his own.
Ron’s intense sorrow emerges as he talks about how he decided to transform Dylan’s truck into a mobile memorial.
Al’s repair shop in Rochester repainted the truck for him, and he designed its adornments, including the nine photos of Beaver County’s lost GWOT soldiers, decals and flags. A Freedom landowner allows him to park the truck in the highly visible lot on Third Avenue, as long as he cuts the grass.
But you get the feeling that Ron will never feel like he’s done enough to preserve Dylan’s legacy, and there’s good reason to. He had the idea for three permanent GWOT monuments in the county: one in Brighton Township, one in Chippewa Township, and one in Hopewell Township.
After connecting with John Dudo of Patterson Township, the executive director of Legacies Alive, a national nonprofit organization committed to helping Gold Star families, Ron found a way to effectively fully fund-raise for the monuments through the organization, allowing it to take care of the donations and bills.
The sites in Brighton and Chippewa townships are complete, and the one in Hopewell will be dedicated within the next two weeks, he said. Legacies Alive offered to cover the Hopewell landscaping costs. And Ron was incredibly grateful, but he still wanted to do more.
So he also created a website. It will soon include information about the county’s GWOT casualties, and eventually, a list of every soldier killed in theater from Beaver County since the Revolutionary War.
In conjunction with this idea, he planned signage/plaques that could be placed all around the county, with info about our GWOT casualties and others with a QR code that can allow tech savvy folks to simply aim their camera, instantly bring up the website and learn all about the soldiers, as well as a brief description of what the conflict they were involved in was about.
He’s planning about 30 outside plaques and another 100 inside ones that he hopes businesses will want to display.
Other than the one in Freedom, the memorials will be located so far at the walking track and ice arena at Brady’s Run Park in Brighton Township, in Rochester near the Flag Plaza, in New Brighton’s Big Rock Park, in Monaca, as well as more in New Brighton, and Chippewa, Hopewell and Brighton townships.
“I need to find a lot of other places,” he said. He wants places that people walk and gather and will notice them.
“I want to do this to get people from the younger generations who don’t understand or appreciate the fact that we have to have people defending our country because there’s evil out there that wants to take us out,” Ron said.
“It’s a connection that the individual reading it can have with the person.”
But back to the boy, and later the young man Dylan became.
Ron had been a father figure to Dylan and his brothers, living next door to their home in Brighton Township while they grew up. Dylan spent his first 11 school years in Beaver Area School District before moving to Raccoon Township for his senior year at Hopewell.
Ron took the boys camping, “running here or there,” and to Boy Scouts, where they learned to honor our country, he said.
Ron eventually moved to his longtime family home in Freedom, where Dylan also spent a lot of time.
Dylan had a longtime passion to be in special operations, he said, as a combat controller.
“They’re kind of the unsung heroes in the military,” Ron said. “You hear about Rangers, the Seals, the Green Berets, but they go through the same rigorous training other guys do.”
The mission of a combat controller is to deploy, undetected, into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance in the joint arena.
Their motto, “First There,” reaffirms the combat controller’s commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow.
“They have a target on their back,” Ron said. “The enemy knows he’s worth 50 men on the ground ‘cause he can call in support and has the ability to call … whatever they need to subdue the enemy and in doing that they they have to have eyes on the enemy.”
The August 2018 incident where Dylan earned his valorous distinction involved an attacked and disabled convoy he was leading. He twice fully exposed himself to the enemy fire from the top of his vehicle to call in the needed assistance.
“He was an outstanding person,” Ron said.
Dylan was specially trained into combat operations to conduct global access, precision strike, and personnel recovery operations. He was skilled in reconnaissance operations, air traffic control and terminal attack control operations.
He was a qualified military static line jumper, free fall jumper, an Air Force qualified combat scuba diver and a qualified Joint Terminal Attack Controller. He was embedded with an Army Special Operations Force Operational Detachment-Alpha team where his role was to advise the Ground Force Commander, direct close air support aircraft, and deliver destructive ordnance on enemy targets in support of offensive combat operations.
He was curious and liked to build things. He was kind. He could be goofy and funny, or serious and focused, depending on what was needed. He loved his family and his fiancée.
He posted simple messages on Facebook, such as his excitement to come home for Christmas, or he complained about time passing so fast, or he expressed his happiness for Friday.
He Is Loved And Remembered
Oak Grove Cemetery in New Sewickley Township is the final resting place for U.S. Air Force Combat Controller Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, for whom the Interstate 376 bridge across the Ohio River between Vanport and Potter townships is named.
Turn into Oak Grove Cemetery at the top of Ninth Street Hill just over Freedom’s border with New Sewickley Township. Go straight. At the top of the hill, there’s a little shed on the left. Turn behind it, then take another left just a bit further. You’ll see the flags on Dylan’s grave.
Don changes them every month.
“This quest that I’m on is an honor,” Ron said. “But it’s also therapeutic for me.”
It’s painful, but he likes to talk about Dylan.
This is the list of the other GWOT Beaver County casualties honored:
Maj. John W. Macroglou, 34, of Center Township died on Oct. 23, 1983. He was one of 229 Americans killed when terrorists drove a bomb-laden truck into a compound at Lebanon’s Beirut Airport.
Pvt. Timothy R. Brown Jr., 21, of Conway, died on Aug. 12, 2003. He was in a convoy in Taji, Iraq, when he was injured by an explosive device.
Sgt. Ernest G. Bucklew, 33, of Enon Valley, died on Nov. 2, 2003. He was on board a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter when it went down in Al Fallujah, Iraq.
Spc. Shawn M. Davies, 22, of Hopewell Township, died on July 8, 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq, of a non-combat related illness.
Pvt. Dylan Paytas, 20, of Freedom, was killed on Nov. 16, 2005 by a fellow soldier who was later convicted. The two were serving with Fort Benning’s 3rd Infantry Brigade in Iraq and were assigned to a combat team that helped lead the 2003 charge to Baghdad.
Sgt. Allen R. Bevington, 22, of Beaver Falls died on Sept. 21, 2006, from wounds he suffered in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device exploded near him.
Sgt. Robert C. Sisson Jr., 29, of Center Township, died Feb. 21, 2011, in Kandahar district, Afghanistan, in a non-combat related incident..
Sgt. Joshua Rimer, 24, of New Sewickley Township, died on July 22, 2009, by an improvised explosive device in Zabul Province, Afghanistan
The federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs defines the Global War on Terror as starting in October 2001, and American casualties are estimated at more than 7,000. But there is great debate that the terrorist war started much earlier.