A few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue from Kelsea Ryan about a column I wrote about Memorial Day four years ago.
Kelsea was searching online for a man named Aaron Henkel of Grover City (the former name of Grover Beach). Over the years she’s searched for information online for Henkel to no avail, but was surprised to see his name pop up in what looked like a promising lead.
However, the title of the Weather Watch column “Remembering all those lost at sea this Memorial Day” made her fear the worst — that Henkel had passed. She found something quite different.
She saw her name along with her sister's name, Kala Ryan.
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The reason Kelsea couldn’t find any information online about Henkel until she came across the Weather Watch column on The Tribune website is that the old editions of the Telegram-Tribune aren’t yet available online. However, they can be viewed on microfiche at the San Luis Obispo County Library. You see, I often scan the microfiche of past issues of Telegram-Tribune in search of weather-related stories.
One summer afternoon a weather story that occurred in July 1992 caught my eye. I have been haunted ever since. A 9-year-old girl from Monterey County drowned in Nacimiento Lake while keeping her 4-year-old sister afloat long enough to be rescued.
Kala and Kelsea were playing in a rubber raft when it overturned and blew out of their reach. Henkel jumped heroically into the water, reached Kelsea and pulled her to safety. But he was unable to grab Kala, who had kept her younger sister afloat during the rescue.
The Sheriff’s Department dive team found Kala’s body a few hours later.
Kelsea told me, “I have so few memories of my sister but I do remember her at that day at the lake.”
I could only imagine the amount of love and devotion that 9-year old Kala had for her younger sister.
Early in my naval career, I was a search and rescue swimmer who jumped out of helicopters to save those lost at sea. I wondered if I had it in me to sacrifice my life for another. Kala did!
I personally witnessed heroic actions by members of our armed services, but Kala’s story resonates with me. Looking back over the history of our great nation, God only knows the true extent of the loss of those we honor during Memorial Day who made the ultimate sacrifice.
There are meaningful Memorial Day observances planned throughout the county Monday to honor the service members who sacrificed everything in order to preserve our freedom. One is the Lost at Sea Memorial at Cayucos Pier. It’s dedicated to all those lost at sea — military, recreational and commercial.
We simply gather at the base of the pier at 3 p.m. on Monday for a brief service by Navy chaplain Bill and walk together out over the Pacific Ocean and remember those who never returned.
Kala, who ascended to the angels way too soon, will be one of those that I will remember on this day.
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