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 Thursday 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, we’re all one big family and I just want to come pay respect to them,” said Lance Cpl. Vincent Vasquez, an active-duty Marine, who attended the event.
“They deserve the absolute world and so do their families,” Vasquez added.
Sean Sullivan an organizer for the event estimated that around 400 people showed up to the vigil to show their respects, while many more who could not make it sent their 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 are: Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover with 2/1, 31, Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, with 5th Marine Expeditionary Battalion, 25, Sgt. Nicole Gee with 24 CLB, 23, Cpl. Hunter Lopez with 2/1, 22, Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, with 2/1, 22, Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza with 2/1, 20, Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz with 2/1, 20, Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum with 2/1, 20, Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola with 2/1, 20 and Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui with 2/1, 20.
Lance Cpl. Daniel Latu said the deaths of the 11 Marines came as a shock to him, given the relative period peace the nation has been in.
Prior to Thursday, 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,” he added.
Since their deaths similar 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 Sunday, 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.
The Marine Corps War Memorial is a statue display of the iconic Joe Rosenthal’s 1945 image of the flag raising atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
When people showed up on Saturday evening as the sun was setting, they found 13 posters surrounded by unlit candles, each with the name of one service member who died in Thursday’s attack.
By the end of the night the posters were filled with messages from friends and strangers paying respect to the service members who lost their lives.
Most of the crowd were Marines both active duty and prior service, but members of the Air force, Army and Navy were also in attendance, intending to pay respects for the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice on Thursday.
The vigil started with a prayer given by a Marine currently stationed in Quantico 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 pre-planned 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,” he added.
Then Sullivan gave a speech, followed by a retired master chief petty officer about the sacrifice those service members made.
“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 last 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.
“These people are here to support one another they are here to lend empathy and sympathize with one another and pay tribute to people they don’t even know,” he added.
The tribute must carryon to the care of the survivors Sullivan told Marine Corps Times on Tuesday.
“We as a nation need to ensure the ones returning get any treatment they may need -physical or mental,” he said in a written statement.
For many who were out there, even those who did not know the service members killed their loss, was not some impersonal headline, but felt truly personal.
“It’s a brother or a sister of ours that we know was a devastating loss,” Aubuchon said.
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