Soldier Brings Wyoming Flag From Afghanistan to Fallen Marine Family
A Christmas story about the solidarity and honor of the military
Sgt. Jack Bianco* was just 30 meters from Abbey Gate in Afghanistan when an ISIS suicide bomber detonated and killed 13 American service members in 2021. Bianco believes the Marines who stood between him and the bomb saved his life.
Since then, he has been on a mission to give a Wyoming state flag found in Kabul to the family of one of those killed. Bianco, 24, has finally tracked down the fallen Marine’s family and will give them the flag over the holidays.
*This is a pseudonym. I spoke to him on the phone twice for hours. He did not want to talk to a reporter. He finally agreed to tell me his story if I promised not to use his real name, home state or military unit.
Bianco landed in Afghanistan in August 2021 to help with the evacuation and withdrawal. While pushing through one hangar at Hamid Karzai Airport, he saw several state flags flying.
“We knew the Taliban was taking over,” he recalled as his fellow soldiers took the flags from their home states.
”I didn’t know anyone from Wyoming, but I ain’t leaving the flag behind. I shoved it in my kit— the plate carrier— and didn’t think anything of it. But I’m a faith-based man. I don’t think anything happens by coincidence.”
Days later, Bianco had the Wyoming flag in his carrier as he walked through Abbey Gate at the Kabul airport.
“I stopped and turned around and watched it blow up in my face. I got hit by debris,” he said. “The only reason I’m alive is those Marines ate all the shrapnel.”
Bianco said he had no penetrating wounds but had a traumatic brain injury that took several months to heal.
I’ve been hanging onto this flag for two years, and I told myself, I have to do it now.
After he left Afghanistan, Bianco read the identities of those killed in the blast. Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum from Wyoming stood out to him.
“This kid grew up a couple of hours away from me. We had very similar lives and military careers. I felt a personal connection. It could’ve been me,” he said.
“All of a sudden I realize I’ve still got that Wyoming flag in my kit,” he said. “I knew I needed to give it to his family.”
Bianco also ordered a KIA bracelet for McCollum that he still wears today. See the photo below.
Gold Star family search
Bianco tried to contact the McCollums through family connections but hit a dead end. He went on several other overseas missions but never forgot about the flag.
“It feels personal— that Rylee being there saved my life,” Bianco said as his 14-month-old baby cried in the background. “I want the McCollums to know he didn't die for nothing. He died so I could live. If I had died, my son wouldn’t be here.”
He added, “I want to give them the flag because I’d hope someone would do that for my parents.”
Seek and you shall find
Bianco is from a neighboring state and will be home for the holidays this week for the first time in three years. He is determined to find the McCollums to give them the flag during his brief time in driving distance to Wyoming.
“I’ve been hanging onto this flag for two years, and I told myself, I have to do it now,” he said.
Looking for them online, Bianco found a news story about Alec Baldwin being forced to settle a lawsuit with Rylee’s widow Gigi and sisters Roice and Cheyenne. (Exclusive, here.)
“I saw the story about the defamation suit, and then I saw the lawyer's information. I thought— I could get a hold of a lawyer for sure.”
Bianco then called the McCollum’s family attorney Dennis Postiglione in Austin. Postiglione asked for a military ID and other proof of the story before connecting the soldier and the grieving family.
Brotherhood of the Traveling Flag
On Friday night, Bianco spoke by phone to Rylee’s sister Roice for an hour. Roice said she cried a couple of times.
“I said to him, ‘We don't get to make any more memories of Rylee,” explained Roice. “Even if he doesn't have stories to tell about my brother, this is just another way that keeps Rylee alive.”
Roice gave Bianco her father’s number to connect. She was touched that Bianco is only going to be in his hometown for three days but offered to drive to Jackson to give the McCollums the flag.
“He picked that flag up right before the bomb went off and stuck it with him all this time. It’s not a coincidence. He was meant to get in touch with us and make sure we get it,” Roice said.
Bianco feels the same. “I felt like it wasn't an accident. This flag is not mine. I picked it up and brought it back with me, and now I’ll give it to them in person.”
The McCollums plan to meet Bianco in Wyoming next weekend to talk and get the flag that went all the way to Afghanistan and is now coming home. It’s a little Christmas miracle.