ARLINGTON, Virginia ― At the end of August a large crowd gathered around the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, to pay respects to the 13 service members that died on Aug. 26 while defending the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Eleven Marines, one Navy corpsman and an Army soldier were killed in the attack, which sent shockwaves across the Corps as the nearly two-decade war in Afghanistan ended.
“One Marine goes through something and everybody goes through it,” said Lance Cpl. Vincent Vasquez, an active-duty Marine who attended the event. “We’re all one big family and I just want to come pay respect to them. They deserve the absolute world and so do their families.”
Sean Sullivan, an organizer for the event, estimated that about 400 people showed up to the vigil, while many more who could not make it sent support in other ways.
“We immediately started getting feedback from all over the country … people just wanted to support in anyway that they could,” Sullivan said.
The Marines died helping more than 116,000 Americans and Afghan allies escape the Taliban.
The names of the dead Marines are: Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, out of Camp Pendleton, California; Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, with 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Naval Support Activity Bahrain; Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, with 2/1; Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, with 2/1; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, with 2/1; Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, with 2/1; Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, with 2/1; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, with 2/1; Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, with 2/1; and Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, with 2/1.
Also killed were Navy corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, assigned to 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California, and soldier Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, assigned to 9th PSYOP Battalion, 8th PSYOP Group, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Lance Cpl. Daniel Latu said the deaths of the 11 Marines came as a shock to him, given the relatively peaceful period the nation had been in.
Prior to Aug. 26, the last Marines killed in combat were Marine Raiders Capt. Moises A. Navas and Gunnery Sgt. Diego Pongo, who died in March 2020 while fighting ISIS in northern Iraq.
“I went to school and boot camp with one of the Marines, not knowing that this could ever happen to us at this time,” Latu said. “It is just really hurtful.”
Since their deaths, similarly hastily organized vigils and impromptu memorials have been set up at bases all across the Corps.
The sign at Camp Pendleton, California, where most of the Marines killed were stationed, has been covered in flowers, flags and messages for the dead Marines while a cross at the Las Pulgas area of Pendleton was erected baring the names of the fallen.
At Marine Corps Base Hawaii local government officials came together for a small ceremony at the Pacific War Memorial near the front gate of the installation on Aug. 29, Capt. Eric Abrams, a Marine Corps spokesman, said in a press release.
The small ceremony was followed by a prayer service at the base chapel, Abrams added.
“It is critical to show support and unity especially in this time,” Sullivan said.
‘We are all family’
The Marine Corps War Memorial is a statue display of Joe Rosenthal’s iconic 1945 image of the flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
When people showed up for the vigil, as the sun was setting, they found 13 posters surrounded by unlit candles, each with the name of a service member who died in the Aug. 26 attack.
By the end of the night the posters were filled with messages from friends and strangers paying respects to the service members who had lost their lives.
Most of the crowd were Marines both active duty and prior service, but members of the Air force, Army and Navy also were in attendance.
The vigil started with a prayer given by a Marine currently stationed in Quantico, Virginia, as part of the Marine security guard augmentation unit.
“We ask you, Lord, to guide these men wherever they may be and watch over their brothers and sisters as they continue their journey,” Cpl. Michael Aubuchon said during the prayer.
Aubuchon stood up without a preplanned speech when one of the organizers asked for a volunteer.
“I was nervous at first because I couldn’t find the words that I wanted to say,” Aubuchon told Marine Corps Times later in the evening.
But he felt it was important to be a voice that could, “If at all possible, deliver a sense of peace and community amongst everyone that I’m around,” Aubuchon said.
After the prayer the crowd sang the Marines’ Hymn, Anchors Aweigh, the Army song and the Air Force song.
“No matter what branch of service they are we are all brothers and sisters all the armed forces, we are all family,” Sullivan said. “Every single one of them they didn’t die for the Marine Corps; they didn’t die for the Army.”
Then Sullivan gave a speech, followed by a retired master chief petty officer.
“Everyone one of these Marines, and that doc who is a Marine, their spirit lives in every one of you,” the retired sailor said as he began to tear up.
Tears were not an unusual sight in the crowd, as veterans honored those who died and remembered their own friends and family who were killed in the past twenty years of fighting.
Sullivan said he experienced a “roller coaster of emotions” during the event.
“You can sense sadness you can sense sorrow; you can also sense a feeling of pride, a feeling of unity, a feeling of community,” Sullivan said.
The tribute must carry on to the care of the survivors, Sullivan told Marine Corps Times.
“We as a nation need to ensure the ones returning get any treatment they may need ― physical or mental,” he said.