By Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink
President Joe Biden honored U.S. service members killed in last week’s Kabul terror attack, attending the return of their remains at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday, Aug. 29, along with their families.
Biden witnessed the unloading of cases with the remains of all 13 service members who died in the blast outside the gates of Kabul airport, where the U.S. has been evacuating its citizens and Afghan allies after the capital fell to the Taliban.
In video footage, respecting the families’ privacy, he could be seen standing with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and a small group of others on the tarmac paying tribute as the flag-draped cases were taken individually from the C-17 aircraft that brought them from Germany. They were carried to awaiting transports.
A Navy corpsman, an Army staff sergeant, and 11 Marines, nine of whom were deployed together as part of the 2nd Battalion/1st Marines out of Camp Pendleton, were killed in the suicide bombing, which wounded an additional 18 U.S. service members and killed dozens of Afghans seeking to flee. Three of the Marines were from the Inland Empire.
Marines who were killed are Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Roseville, north of Sacramento; Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah, who was living in Aliso Viejo; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming; Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga; Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco; Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska; Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana; and Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri.
Also killed were Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.
The arrival of the remains, in what’s known as a dignified transfer, marks the first time that Biden is honoring fallen U.S. troops at such an event as president.
He warned on Saturday that another attack at Kabul airport is “highly likely” within the next 24 to 36 hours, underscoring the threat to U.S. troops still on the ground and the political risk surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that’s due to be completed on Tuesday.
The bombing at the airport’s Abbey Gate, where the U.S. was processing potential evacuees, was carried out by ISIS-K, an Afghan offshoot of the terror organization.
Biden warned the group that the U.S. would “hunt you down and make you pay” in remarks Thursday night following the bombing. The Pentagon said Saturday the U.S. killed two ISIS-K members and wounded a third in a retaliatory air strike.
A U.S. drone strike on Sunday destroyed a vehicle that posed an “imminent ISIS-K threat” to the Kabul airport, Central Command spokesperson Bill Urban said in a statement. Explosions after the strike indicated it “a substantial amount of explosive material” aboard, he said.
As vice president, Biden took part in a 2016 dignified transfer ritual for a soldier killed in action in Afghanistan. Barack Obama attended two such events as president and Donald Trump took part in four when he was president.
Sense of Loss
Biden said Thursday he had “some sense” of the loss for families of the slain service members, noting that his son, Beau Biden, had served in the Army in Iraq before dying of brain cancer.
”You get this feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest; there’s no way out,” Biden said. “My heart aches for you.”
Biden has been criticized by lawmakers and foreign leaders over the execution of the U.S. withdrawal. He has acknowledged his administration did not anticipate the quick collapse of the Afghan government.
Vigils and tributes for the service member are starting to be planned locally.
Today, Aug. 29, a hike up to Pumpkin Hill in honor or Nikoui was organized by his former Air Force JROTC program at Norco High.
On Tuesday, Aug. 31, the city of Murrieta has a vigil in honor of all the service members who died planned for 6 p.m. at Town Square Park in the amphitheater. The park is next to City Hall.
At Camp Pendleton the wives over several members of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines are planning a candlelight vigil this week at Del Mar Beach.
On Sept. 5, at 3:45 p.m., a memorial march is planned in San Clemente to show support for the Camp Pendleton Marines. The march will travel from El Camino Real down Avenida Del Mar to Park Semper Fi near the Pier Bowl and read the names of the fallen heroes.
Source: Orange County Register