Cheatham County park honors young Marine killed in Afghanistan

Photo: WKRN

CHEATHAM COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – In a town of a little more than 4,000 people, there is a Gold Star Mother doing her best to show everyone how much her son loved Cheatham County.

“I know he would be so happy to see this park here today with all the children playing out there,” said Penny Riley.

Lance Corporal Daniel Gabriel “Gabe” Raney was killed in Marja, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device was detonated in 2010. He was laid to rest in Georgia, but his mom brought a part of his spirit back to Pleasant View.

“We have a place that we can come to and honor our veterans, our fallen, it just makes all the difference in the world,” Riley said.

Gabe was studying microbiology at Austin Peay State University in 2008 when he decided to join the Marines.

Gabe Raney (Courtesy: Penny Riley)

Riley said she always knew he wanted to fight for our country.

“He really always had it in him to be a protector,” said Riley.

She says at 9 years old, during one of the country’s darkest days, she saw a future Marine in his eyes.

“We saw 9/11 unfold live on television and it had a major, profound effect on that child,” Riley remembered.

Nine years after that, Gabe made the ultimate sacrifice. Now, going on her seventh Memorial Day without him, July 9, 2010 is still a tough day for Riley.

“I saw the corner of a green service uniform and I knew what it meant,” she said.

She remembers her family celebrating when they found out Gabe would be coming home in a month; but even growing up on a military base, that did not prepare her for the day she learned that she would never see her son again.

RELATED: American flag dedicated in late Marine’s honor

“The day before we found out that he was killed, we had gotten word that they were coming home.”

But their hometown of Pleasant View and a civilian group are helping to heal her broken heart

Penny Riley (Photo: WKRN)

What started as a street named after Gabe, eventually turned into a memorial to remember him as well as two other men killed in action and many other veterans from Middle Tennessee.

While News 2 was at the park visiting with Riley, two people, including a World War II veteran, came by to remember those who served.

“That tells us that we are doing the right thing. It made him feel good that people have not forgotten his sacrifice,” Riley said.

Mayor Perry Keenan said this 21-year-old is leaving behind a legacy in Middle Tennessee.

“This is something that people for generations will be able to come back and enjoy with their families,” explained Keenan.

Just this week, Gabe’s medals, including a Purple Heart, came in the mail which put a smile on his mother’s face. Now she knows her son will never be forgotten.

“When he went into the military, I could see the man that he was becoming,” she said.

Courtesy: Penny Riley

Today, with her son’s dog tags hang around her neck and the sense of comfort she gets around the memorial, this Gold Star Mother will tell her son’s story to anyone who will listen.

“He had a calling is the only way that I can describe it. He just never really had any other real focus than he wanted to serve his country. He always said mom, if I don’t do it, who will.”

If you have someone that you would like to honor with a paver at the park, you can reach out to Riley by visiting a Facebook set up to honor LCpl Raney.