PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 21, 2021) – More than 200 people gathered at Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove Sept. 17 for a memorial service honoring the lives and sacrifice of the 13 service members killed in action at the Kabul Airport on Aug. 26.
The event highlighted military and municipal partnerships that help build a strong sense of community on the Monterey Peninsula. The City of Pacific Grove and the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, and it featured two speakers from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. In addition, City of Monterey provided a fire truck with a large American flag that hung on a ladder over the event.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Timothy Mayer, commander, Marine Corps Detachment, DLIFLC, delivered the event’s keynote speech. He memorialized each of the fallen 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and one Soldier and talked about the meaning of military service.
“[The service members] made the ultimate sacrifice trying to help people they didn’t even know,” Mayer said. “That’s what people sometimes forget about military service: Yes, we train to fight our country’s battles and ultimately to win our nation’s wars, but we also serve to defend the defenseless and to support those willing to fight for their freedom.”
Mayer said he did not know any of the fallen, but he knows many service members like them.
“The service members that were killed are much like the young service members you see here in Pacific Grove, enjoying the beach, hiking at Garrapata [State Park] or enjoying an afternoon on Cannery Row or at Fisherman’s Warf,” Mayer said. “They are patriotic, dedicated, unflinching and selfless.”
Service members at DLIFLC impress him daily with their enthusiasm for service and life, Mayer said, and not only do they have bright futures, they are also developing skills and values that will enhance communities when they return to civilian life.
“The service members we memorialize today do not have that future,” Mayer said. “We lost 13 souls on Aug. 26 that were serving on a righteous and a just mission. They were doing what their nation asked of them. They had families, friends and people that cared for them. They were each unique.”
Army Chaplain (Maj.) Chester Olson, a DLIFLC chaplain, delivered a special invocation and was one of 10 local religious leaders to speak. He also spoke about the meaning of military service.
“Service and sacrifice are two words that exemplify the life and commitment for military men and women, but it is love that sustains service and sacrifice,” Olson said. “Love, especially in the midst of grave danger, love for God, love for country, love for family and love for friends.”
Olson recounted a story about a Marine in the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II who said the fighting was so intense all he could do was put his head down and pray.
“When he was asked how he kept going, his response was this: That he kept going ‘because of the people on his right and on his left,’” Olson said. “’And although their faces kept changing, I kept on fighting. I kept on fighting for the person on my right and on my left.’ And that is love.”
Olson then quoted the Bible’s Gospel of John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Joe Amelio, a Pacific Grove city council member and DLIFLC test administrator, said he formed the idea for the memorial because he felt it was important for the community to honor the lives of the fallen service members. Although four of the fallen service members were from California, they were not from the local area.
Amelio said when he first read the news stories about the fallen service members, his immediate reaction was that someone had to do something, so he called Moe Ammar, president of the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, and they began organizing the event.
“I just felt in my heart that we needed to do something,” Amelio said.
The names of the fallen service members are: Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts; Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California; Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California; Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska; Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California; Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.