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A lost Marine's life will not be forgotten, widow vows

They stood along the route, saluting and waving American flags as the hearse carrying Marine Cpl. Jonathan D. Porto made its way to a St. Petersburg funeral home.

"I'm so grateful for what he did,'' said a teary Barbara Welch, 47, of St. Petersburg. "How do you say thank you for something like that?''

Porto, 26, a small-arms technician, died in a vehicle crash March 14 in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, relatives said.

Mourners along the route from MacDill Air Force Base to Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home could not have known that Porto's 2-month-old daughter coos at the sound of his voice. Or that he didn't need a diamond ring to win over his young bride.

They could not have known about the ashes.

• • •

Porto fell in love with the Marines when he was 24. He actually enjoyed the basic training at grueling Parris Island in South Carolina.

"I love it (this place)," he wrote to his mother, Rachel Bernaby of St. Petersburg.

But the real love of Porto's life started in the summer of 2008. He was training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Porto and a 21-year-old woman named Rachel Jewell shared laughs one night over bowling, cigarettes and a game of pool.

He was supposed to be the billiards instructor, but she creamed him.

They had a fairy tale relationship — a whirlwind, said her mother, Evelyn Jewell of Aberdeen.

Rachel let Porto kiss her that first night.

"My knees went weak," she said.

• • •

Porto proposed twice. She said yes both times.

The first time came Nov. 1, the day Porto flew to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a new assignment. It happened outside a bar as they waited for his flight.

He didn't have a ring, but Porto got down on one knee and removed the smaller chain from his dog tag, wrapping it around her finger.

"You can ask any of my friends," she said. "I showed it off like it was a freaking 2-carat diamond platinum piece of work."

The real ring came a few weeks later, on Thanksgiving. He flew down from Camp Lejeune and surprised her at her family's Disney World cabin. This time, he asked the question in front of her family and friends.

Their wedding was May 2, not even a year from their first date.

Some family and friends were skeptical of the fast pace. That changed when they saw how happy he made her.

She bought him a shiny titanium carbide ring from Walmart. He wanted one that wouldn't break as he worked on machinery overseas.

It didn't. She keeps it around her neck now to remember him.

"I let it get warm from being against my chest," she said, "and then I pull it out, and it's like he's been wearing it."

• • •

The couple made it known they would be making a baby on their honeymoon. They knew deployment was imminent, said Jewell, Rachel's mother.

"He told me, 'Mom, I want to have a legacy.' " Bernaby said. " 'Just in case.' "

Against the advice of both mothers, the newlyweds kept their promise.

"Now," Jewell said, "both mothers are so grateful that they did."

Ariana Ralyn Porto was born Jan. 15. The middle name was her father's creation, a hybrid of her grandmothers' names.

Porto cheered his wife through delivery via a fuzzy phone call from Afghanistan, she said.

"He started yelling, 'Push, baby, push, push,' and got disconnected again," Jewell said.

When Ariana made her screaming entrance into the world, the delivery room could hear him crying.

Rachel Porto, 23, isn't like mothers who hope their children will adopt their features. Ariana already has her daddy's full lips, and Rachel hopes more traits will emerge as Ariana grows up.

"I pray," she said, "that she continues to look like him."

• • •

Ariana will know her father, Rachel vows.

Before he left for Afghanistan, the couple recorded Porto as he read from a few children's books. Ariana, usually a quiet baby, lights up and coos when she hears her dad recite If You Give a Cat a Cupcake.

The videos were meant to help Ariana recognize her father's voice. Now, after his death in an accident the Defense Department has not detailed, the videos are among the only mementos of her father.

"She will know her daddy," Porto said. "I will make it a point on myself, with the videos, the stories, the pictures, everything I have. I have been assured by his Marine friends, by my family, his family, that she will know him. She will know how amazing he is."

And she will know one day that her mother and father will be reunited, Rachel says.

The couple's ashes will be mixed and put to sea.

Fast facts

For Ariana's future

The family has set up a trust fund for Ariana Ralyn Porto. In lieu of flowers, donations can be mailed to:

Aberdeen Proving Ground Federal Credit Union

Attn: Collean McKinney for the account of Ariana Ralyn Porto

P.O. Box 1176, Aberdeen, MD 21001

A lost Marine's life will not be forgotten, widow vows 03/22/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 7:08am]
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