Sadness, anger linger years after Youmans' death

ALLENDALE, S.C. --- Manderlene Youmans used to go to her son's grave every few days and sit in silence. She wouldn't say anything. She would just stare at the tombstone, said her husband, Johnnie.

In time, the trips became once a week, then once a month. In the final throes of breast cancer, she wanted badly to go one last time, and she managed it, then died a week later in January 2009.

Now she's next to him in the family plot at Hoover Cemetery in Ulmer, S.C.

"She never did get over it," Johnnie Youmans said. "She worried and worried, missing him."

Marine Lance Cpl. Rodricka "Rah" Youmans died July 6, 2004, at age 22 when the armored vehicle he was riding in was hit by an antitank mine outside Fallujah, Iraq. He left behind two children and a fiancee pregnant with a third.

The loss devastated the family, beginning the day Johnnie Youmans happened to be passing by their house on Mill Street on his way somewhere else and saw a white van with a Marine emblem parked out front.

When he pulled up, his daughter Shalonda came running out the door, mortified. His wife was inside with a sergeant and chaplain, crying uncontrollably.

"That was the saddest day of my life," Youmans said. "It seemed like everything had got dark."

That darkness never lifted. His son, desperate to find work to support his family, had gone into the Marines on the example of his father, a staff sergeant with the South Carolina Army National Guard's 163rd Support Battalion.

Johnnie Youmans, a worker at Dayco Products auto parts plant in Williston, said he became so bitter at the military that he decided to retire from the Guard in 2007, shortly before his own unit deployed to Afghanistan.

"It hurt me so bad, that's why I got out," he said.

Compounding the pain, he and his family believe they lost his son in a senseless, unjust war, fought in the wrong place. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the focus should have stayed on Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden, not destroying and rebuilding nations, Youmans said.

"It should have ended in a year," he said. "A year, two years, everybody should have been home."

Youmans said he's glad to see the war coming to a close, mostly because no else will have to lose sons or daughters there needlessly. The pain of losing a child is indescribable, though it doesn't hurt as bad now as it did in the beginning.

"It goes away after a while," he said, "but it also stays with you. You never forget."

Shalonda said that, like her mother, she's still having trouble accepting what happened to her brother.

"Pretty much, I'm holding it in," she said. "I haven't released it yet."

22-year-old's 'journey' was cut short