So far, 29 Marines and corpsmen attached to Marine units have received Purple Hearts for the wounds sustained while protecting Hamid Karzai International Airport in August as thousands of people fled Afghanistan.
Twelve of those Purple Hearts were awarded to the Marines and corpsman who died when a suicide bomber carrying roughly 25 pounds of explosives approached a group of Marines processing refugees through the airport’s Abbey Gate.
Not included in that number was an Army staff sergeant who was killed in the bombing and also was posthumously approved for the Purple Heart.
The Aug. 26 explosion killed 13 total service members and roughly 170 Afghans.
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.
In addition those of the the service members killed, 17 Purple Hearts have been approved for Marines wounded during the defense of the airport while 12 more are pending approval, Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Marine Corps Times on Friday.
Carlock did not say which units had Marines receiving either Purple Hearts or combat action ribbons.
The Marine Corps says it will not release details on the wounded Marines due to privacy issues.
At least one Marine form Battalion Landing Team 1/8 was wounded in the first days of the operation at the airport, when the Marine took sporadic and unnamed fire from the crowd.
“The way it was described in reporting was that it was basically potshots,” Brig. Gen. Peter D. Huntley, director of the operations division for Marine plans, policies and operations, told reporters in mid-August.
“It was relatively minor, that Marine was patched up and he returned to duty,” Huntley added.
Reports on the ground were that the potshots did not come from the Taliban, Huntley added.
The Taliban was not thought to have been involved in the Aug. 26 suicide bombing either, with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province, known as ISIS-K or ISIS-KP, claiming credit for that attack.
As of Tuesday evening, 15 wounded Marines were at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, being treated for wounds received in the explosion at Abbey Gate.
One of those Marines was still in critical condition, three were in serious condition and 11 were in stable condition, Capt. Johnny Henderson, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Marine Corps Times on Tuesday.
“Over the past two weeks we have had the opportunity to visit with some of your brothers and sisters recently wounded in Afghanistan,” said a letter signed by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black.
“As anyone who knows Marines would expect, every one of them is eager to get back to their units as quickly as possible. All are positive, optimistic, and proud of their service,” read the letter, released to honor the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
All the Marine and corpsman dead have had combat action ribbons approved, Carlock said, while those for other Marines who participated in the defense of the airport are still pending.
The Marine Corps did not say if any awards for valor were being processed for Marines who defended the airport.
These may be the last awards in what was ultimately a lost war. But Berger and Black said the Marines did not fight in vain.
“These Marines with Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen, helped nearly 130,000 people find a better, freer life I the largest non-combatant evacuation operation in history,” the letter from the two Marines said.
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