DOVER, Del. — As white-gloved officers carried the flag-draped case of their fellow Marine from the C-17 military plane, the quiet of their gentle footsteps was broken by the soft cries of a loved one's anguish.
It was just one of several emotional moments during the heart-wrenching ritual as the remains of 13 U.S. service members killed in Kabul were brought back home to their families.
President Biden lifted his right hand over his heart as, one-by-one, the remains of the fallen service members were delicately carried across the tarmac to awaiting vehicles.
This was Biden's first visit to Dover Air Force Base as president to honor dead service members and comfort their relatives.
The fallen included 11 Marines, an Army soldier and a member of the Navy. They were killed by a suicide bomber while helping those arriving at the Kabul airport amid the chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghans partners.
Biden stood stoically across from the families as carry teams from each branch of the military brought their fellow service members to waiting vehicles. He bowed his head after each of the fallen was lifted into the dark vans.
It was so quiet that the officers' footsteps could be heard amid the commands of the marching officers and buzz of a military plane overhead.
The president and his wife, Jill, met privately with the family members of all 13 families.
"The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others," Biden said in a statement Saturday. "Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far."
The president and the first lady led a group of aides — including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley — to the somber ritual.
Strict rules to protect grieving families members limited the amount of video and photography. Audio was prohibited.
The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others. Our sacred obligation to the families of these heroes will last forever. pic.twitter.com/lPx4a4ebS7— President Biden (@POTUS) August 29, 2021
The families of 11 of the 13 fallen service members allowed media to cover the event.
They included the families of:
- Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn.;
- Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah;
- Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.;
- Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.;
- Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Neb.;
- Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.;
- Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.
- Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.;
- Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.;
- Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif;
- Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.
Two remains of two others who were killed in Kabul — Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.; and Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo. — were also transferred Sunday.