Donald J. Hogan always wanted to be a soldier. As a kid, every year on his birthday, he would ask for a toy gun. Once, his parents remember, he asked for an Apache helicopter. A real one.
On Halloween, he often dressed up as a soldier. And once, when he was 10 or 11, he disappeared briefly while visiting a ship on which his cousin was serving. His mother found the boy with a group of Marines.
“One of them told my wife, ‘He knows more about the weapons systems than we do,’ ” said his father, Jim Hogan of San Clemente.
After Donald Hogan graduated from Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, he worked as a supermarket checker and attended Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
“I don’t think he was real happy, but he tried to make us happy,” his father said. After a month of college, he did what seemed inevitable: He enlisted in the Marines.
“We tried to dissuade him because there was a war going on and people were getting killed,” his father said. “My wife and I were not happy with it, but we came to terms with it. We had to support him.”
On Aug. 26, Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan, 20, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near him while his unit was on foot patrol in southwest Afghanistan’s Helmand province, on the Pakistani border. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.
It was his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. He had been a Marine for a year and nine months.
Hogan was born in Columbus, Ohio. Jim and Carla Hogan adopted him, along with his biological brother and sister, when he was 5. The children had been living in a foster home.
Hogan, the younger of the two boys, seemed to gravitate toward other adopted children, his mother said. His best friend in high school also was adopted, as were a couple of his friends in the Marine Corps.
In high school, he ran cross country and track. Before he enlisted, he talked of becoming a chef. “He loved food,” his mother said. “His first question every day was, ‘What’s for dinner?’ ”
“I don’t know about making it, but he sure loved to eat it,” his father added.
Hogan planned on a career in the Marines, his parents said, and hoped to retire with a higher rank than his grandfather, who had served for 22 years.
James Hogan Sr. had finished his career as a gunnery sergeant after fighting in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was wounded by a sniper at Iwo Jima. “My dad was a warrior,” Jim Hogan said.
When Donald Hogan joined the Marines, he felt that he had found a home.
“I think he loved the camaraderie, liked shooting guns, liked blowing things up,” his mother said. “He just liked being in the military. He liked identifying himself as a Marine. I don’t think there was much about it he didn’t like.”
He didn’t even think boot camp was so tough. “I don’t know what it was, but to Donald it was a great adventure, and he was glad to be on it,” his father said.
The Sunday before he was killed, he left a message on his mother’s cellphone. He said “he loved us and missed us and was OK,” Jim Hogan said. “On Wednesday, the Marines were here.”
Hogan’s parents said members of his squad told them that the day he died, their son had volunteered to go out with a group investigating a report of an improvised explosive device. He spotted the trip wires, told everyone to run and pushed the Marine in front of him out of the way, his parents said. He was killed in the blast.
A Camp Pendleton spokesman said the investigation into the incident is not complete.
Hogan was buried at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery at Point Loma in San Diego. A memorial service was held at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills.
At the visitation, Hogan’s parents saw a young woman crying and asked how she knew their son. “She told us her husband was one of the guys on patrol, and Donald had saved her husband’s life,” Jim Hogan said.
Then, at the memorial service, a man approached the family and said his son, too, was alive because of Donald Hogan’s actions.
“It’s one of those things -- you’re sorry your son’s dead but grateful that based on his actions, four or five other families were spared the kind of grief we’re feeling,” Jim Hogan said.