Last Sunday, amid a hasty evacuation of American troops, allies and citizens, Islamic State terrorists launched a series of attacks outside Kabul airport in Afghanistan, staining their hands with the blood of more than a hundred people. Among those killed in the attack were 13 young U.S. soldiers, aged between 20 and 31.
The last days of August mark the end of a war that began and ended with the victory of the bad guys. In the final stretch of an evacuation that was already disastrous enough before the attack, eleven Marines, one Navy and one Army soldier were killed. Of the total number of servicemen killed, five of them were of the same age as the conflict.
They were heroes and as such were honored by the Biden administration, and should be remembered as such.
Darin Taylor Hoover
Darin T. Hoover, age 31, was the oldest of the military personnel killed by ISIS in the fateful airport bombing. He was 11 years old at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, 2001, and had risen to the position of sergeant in the Marine Corps Infantry.
From Salt Lake City, his hometown in the state of Utah, his father remembers him as a “born leader” who loved his country. Mr. Hoover told The New York Times that, during his third tour in Afghanistan, he would lead his soldiers with patriotism to America’s defense. “They would have followed him through the gates of hell if they had to, and ultimately that’s pretty much what he did,” Darin’s father said.
Johanny Rosario Pichardo, a 25-year-old Latina heroine, will always be remembered as “an absolute warrior,” whose work was “crucial in evacuating thousands of women and children,” according to John Coppola, a Marine Corps first lieutenant.
Johanny rose to the rank of sergeant in the Marine Corps with the Naval Amphibious Force, and although she was born in the Dominican Republic, she loved Lawrence, Massachusetts as her home. In a statement, Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said Rosario was “a brave soul” who felt like “a daughter of the city.” He also said he has been in contact with the family, who have asked for privacy “and for their loved one to be recognized as the hero she was.”
“We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young woman of Dominican origin, Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, who was one of the victims of the recent terrorist attack at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan,” the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in the United States said in a tweet.
Nicole L. Gee was 23 years old and already a sergeant in the Marine Corps. A native of Sacramento, California, Gee was a passionate patriot who loved her job. She had been assigned to escort Afghan women and girls during the evacuation. In her last days in Kabul, she starred in two images that shocked the world.
In the first, Gee was cradling an Afghan baby she had rescued from the hands of resignation and held as if it were her own child. The photo went around the world after she posted it on her Instagram with a caption that read, “I love my job.” The second is her coffin next to the other 12 heroes whose lights were violently extinguished in the airport bombing.
Hunter Lopez was a 22-year-old Marine Corps infantryman from Indio, California. He was the son of La Quinta Police Captain Herman Lopez and Sheriff Alicia Lopez.
A high school graduate just 4 years ago, and after serving as a scout at the Palm Desert Police Station, Hunter planned to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a Riverside County Sheriff upon his return home from his deployment to Afghanistan.
“I am incredibly saddened and heartbroken for the Lopez family,” Sheriff Chad Bianco wrote in a statement on social media.
Marine Corps Infantryman Daegan W. Page, 23, also lost his life in the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Page served with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, California.
According to his family, Daegan planned to go to trade school and possibly become a lineman after his enlistment. He will be remembered for his “hard shell and giant heart,” according to a statement his family posted in the Omaha World-Herald.
“Our hearts are broken,” his family said in the statement. “But we are thankful for the friends and family around us during this time.”
Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, graduated from Logansport High School in Logansport, Indiana in 2017, and passed away serving his country. His school principal wrote on Twitter thanking Sanchez for “serving our country in uniform and with sacrifice.” According to Jones, Cpl. Sanchez was a popular and active student who was honored to serve his country.
For its part, the Logansport Community School Corporation tweeted that they will always be indebted to the service men and women “who risk it all to protect others,” and that they will never forget Sanchez and “the names of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Rep. Jim Baird, whose district includes Logansport, thanked Sanchez for his service and asked for prayers for the Marine’s family.
“He bravely answered the call to serve his nation, and I am both proud of his service and deeply saddened by his loss,” Baird wrote in the Facebook post. “May we never forget Corporal Sanchez’s name or his heroism to a grateful nation.”
Later, Senator Mike Braun referred to Sanchez as an “American hero” and sent his condolences to his family members. “His service and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” he wrote.
The family of Marine David L. Espinoza, received a call at 2 a.m. to inform them that their 20-year-old son had given his life fighting for his country. According to his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, serving the United States in the Navy had always been his dream.
“He’s my hero, my Marine,” his mother told a local television station. “He has served his country, and I am very proud.”
According to his stepfather’s testimony, although it was always suggested that he go to college, David always dreamed of being in the military. “He was always a great kid, we never had any problems with him,” said Victor Dominguez. “He was never my stepson. I told him his whole life, from the time I met him, what he means to me. I don’t have much to say that he doesn’t know.”
David, originally from Rio Bravo, Texas, had been in Jordan for two years before being transferred to Kabul a week before the incident. He died a hero’s death: fulfilling his mission and making his dream come true.
Jared Schmitz, 20, a native of St. Charles, Missouri, was a Marine Corps infantryman who was also a victim of the terrorist attack.
“This has been absolutely devastating,” his father, Mark Schmitz, told radio station KMOX. Schmitz also said the U.S. Marine Corps arrived at his home to give him “the horrible news” around 2:40 a.m. Friday.
“He wasn’t the kind of guy who liked to sit still,” his father said, recounting that his son was stationed in Jordan before he was called to Afghanistan two weeks before the attack. “Like his parents, of course, we were terrified.”
The father also added, “He was probably one of the coolest and most unique people I’ve ever met. I’m very honored to be able to call him my son.”
Senator Josh Hawley confirmed his death in a statement posted on Twitter, where he said he spoke with his family and that Schmitz “proudly” served his nation. “I promised his family that his service and legacy will not be forgotten,” he wrote.
Rylee J. McCollum
Rylee McCollum, a 20-year-old Marine infantryman, had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks and was due to return home in October to join his pregnant wife Jiennah Crayton, known as “Gigi.”
His devastated father, Jim McCollum, described his son as “selfless” in a touching tribute and revealed that the last message he sent to Rylee read, “Hey man… Are you okay?” to which Rylee never responded. “Now we know he wasn’t.”
His mother had strong words to say against President Joe Biden: “that feckless, dementia-ridden piece of crap just sent my son to die.”
“I woke up at 4 o’clock this morning. Two Marines at my door telling me that my son was dead” Kathy McCollum said in a furious call to local radio, in which she also criticized Biden for choosing “diplomacy” to deal “with terrorists like the Taliban.”
Dylan R. Merola
Marine Dylan Ryan Merola, also 20 years old and originally from California, will always be remembered by his family as “one of the best kids ever,” who would have been able to “give anything for anybody,” according to his mother’s statements to the press.
Merola was reportedly transferred to Afghanistan about a week and a half before the explosion and left a voicemail message for his mother saying he would not be able to speak to her for a while and that he loved her.
The Rancho de Cucamonga City Government released an obituary in his honor, in which they sent their condolences to the family.
“The City of Rancho Cucamonga plans to honor and remember Lance Cpl. Merola at a future City Council meeting and plans to proudly display an Armed Forces banner in his name, embellished with the gold star, reserved for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our Nation,” read the statement.
The 20-year-old Marine, Kareem Mae’Lee Grant Nikoui, a California native, graduated in 2019 and joined the Navy immediately after.
Steve Nikoui, Kareem’s father, told The Daily Beast that he is upset with President Joe Biden and is trying to “respect the office” despite having been a supporter of former President Donald Trump.
“I’m really disappointed in the way the president has handled this, even more so the way the military has handled it,” Nikoui told Reuters. “The commanders on the ground should have recognized this threat and addressed it.”
“The city of Norco respectfully salutes the service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Kabul, Afghanistan, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time,” the statement said, further adding that Nikoui “was committed to serving his country and is survived by his mother, father and siblings.”
City officials in the release said Nikoui’s name will be engraved on the “Wall Lest We Forget” at the George A. Ingalls Veterans Memorial Plaza.
In honor of Nikoui, the community gathered for a breakfast, followed by a walk to Pumpkin Rock, where people arrived with flags, Norco High School colors and heavy hearts for their local hero.
Maxton W. Soviak
Navy medic Maxton W. Soviak, 22, was also one of the Taliban’s casualties. “He gave his life trying to save his countrymen and those Afghan allies who have supported our troops, diplomats and citizens for two decades,” Sen. Rob Portman acknowledged on Twitter.
“It’s kill or be killed,” Soviak said in his latest Instagram post. On her personal account, Marilyn Soviak described the loss of her brother, “My beautiful, smart, beating to the beat of his own drum, annoying, charming little brother was killed while helping to save lives.” She added that “his family will never be the same” after Max’s death.
According to a Navy publication, his military training included Medical Adjutant School in San Antonio, Texas, the Navy Medical Readiness and Training Command in Guam and the West Field Medical Training Battalion, Camp Pendleton.
Ryan C. Knauss
The 23-year-old Ryan Knauss was a young Army sergeant, born in Corryton, Tennessee, who had plans to move to Washington after returning to the United States. Ryan died not only “serving our nation, but also helping to give others a life of freedom and opportunity.”
So wrote 1st Special Forces Command in a statement. “The sacrifices made by our soldiers and families over the past 20 years were not in vain, and our mission in Afghanistan is not yet over.”
Ryan was “a driven young man who loved his country,” his grandfather Wayne Knauss told WATE-TV in Knoxville, according to The New York Times. “He was a man of faith, so we’ll see him again in God’s heaven.”
Knauss had been stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was part of the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, the Defense Department detailed.
The United States ended its military mission in Afghanistan on Monday, after 20 years of war, following the departure of the last planes carrying its troops. All those killed in the terrorist attack at the Kabul airport were honored by President Biden, who also privately received the families of the 13 American heroes.