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His dad died in combat before he ever met him, but son knows his sacrifice

Dylan Layfield, 6, never met his father but he likely will remember the Sunday ceremony at Courthouse Park memorializing the Marine who was killed four years ago in Iraq.

Active-duty Marines and honor guard members of veterans’ groups gave full honors to 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Travis James Layfield, who died April 6, 2004 in a firefight in Anbar province in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 6-year-old boy received a folded American flag, proclamations from elected officials and witnessed the 21-gun salute that rang out sharply in three volleys near the Merced County Veterans Memorial in the park.The quiet youngster, who starts first grade at Atwater’s Bellevue School this fall, was clad in miniature combat fatigues. His only words to about 30 relatives, dignitaries and veterans’ officials were “my daddy died for our freedom.”

Dylan’s mother, Catana Smith of Atwater, was the fiancee of Travis Layfield for about two years. Layfield attended Atwater High School for a year and a half. After Sunday’s half-hour ceremony in Courthouse Park, the youngster,born June 19, attended his 6th birthday party in Atwater. Marine Capt. Donn Puca of Lathrop, of the 4th Landing Support Battalion, is the unit’s casualty officer. That means he has been working with Dylan and his mother for several years, to make sure the boy’s medical needs and other benefits are adequately addressed.

The boy received proclamations honoring his late father from representatives of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced; state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced; and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton. Merced Mayor EllieWooten said presented Dylan and his mother with a plaque “from a grateful community.”

“We will never forget his sacrifice,” Wooten said. “I’m glad it’s (ceremony) being done.”

Jim Sutherland, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter and the master of ceremonies for the Sunday rites, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” A large group of American Legion members participated in the ceremony.

Marine Sgt. Paul Yankey narrated the 12 steps of whitegloved soldiers folding an American flag and what each fold represents. The flag was then placed in a wooden box with a Marine seal and presented to the wide-eyed youngster, along with the shell casings from the 21-gun salute. The flag was given by the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. Catana Smith said the memorial rites were very emotional for “a lot of us” and said her son would remember them for the rest of his life. She said the ceremony was long overdue and it’s important her son know who her father was.