At first glance, Humberto Sanchez looks like many young corporals serving in the Marines.
He went through one of the army’s toughest basic training programs to become a “strategic warrior” and defend his country. Beside other members of the service in the photos, he was standing, sporting the Marine Camouflage Combat Utility Uniform. He has been honored as a hero by people across the country – from family and friends to strangers on the Internet, even the President of the United States.
Sanchez, from Logansport, Indiana, was one of 13 U.S. service members who died in the line of duty while supporting U.S. evacuation efforts in Kabul, Afghanistan. Details of a public service honoring Sanchez in Indiana are yet to be announced, according to his family.He will be brought back to Logansport on September 12, according to Gundrum Funeral Home which runs its services.
America’s “backbone,” President Joe Biden said hours after the deadly August 26 bombing.
Governor Eric Holcomb called him “one of the best in America.”
Coral Briseño shares the same feelings, but she feels it directly from a mother’s perspective.
“My child was a hero.”
His mother’s words represent a devastating duality – Sanchez was a hero, but he was also young. His commanders may have called him Cpl. Sanchez, but to those close to him, the 22-year-old was simply known as “Bert”.
In photos and videos online, rectangular-rimmed glasses and a thin black mustache complete his mature military look, but a dimpled smile brightens his youth. He sings and laughs with his friends and fellow Marines. In an instant, he is pictured falling asleep on the shoulder of another Marine. In another, he carries his older sister on his back, standing next to their two younger siblings.
His best friend from high school, Edgar Rodriguez Sanchez, says they had a Snapchat footage days before the Kabul attack.
“I heard about what had happened,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “I texted and I was like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?'”
’20 years ago ‘
Sanchez was among a group of incredibly young people killed in Kabul, some as old as the war in Afghanistan. Five Marines lost their lives at the age of 20: David Espinoza, Jared Schmitz, Rylee McCollum, Dylan Merola, Kareem Nikoui. The oldest of the group, Staff Sgt. Darin Hoover, was 31 years old.
They made the “ultimate sacrifice”:The 13 US servicemen killed in the bombing of an airport in Afghanistan
Marines generally tend to be younger than those in other military branches, according to the Council of Foreign Relations. In 2018, about 70% of enlisted Marines were between 17 and 24 years old. In the army and the air force, only 40% of the enlisted men belonged to the same age group.
“I think I’ve had his life twice,” said Bryan Hole, an art teacher who taught Sanchez for four years at Logansport High School. “It’s hard to… understand.”
The “Eternal War” has affected generations of Americans in distinct and conflicting ways.
Hole’s first year of teaching was marred by tragedy – he remembers “walking into the teachers’ workroom and seeing the buildings on fire” in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The world has changed.
Hole remembers his high school students driven into action, eagerly enlisting in the military because they wanted to defend the country. Sanchez was 2 years old at the time.
“It’s impressive,” Hole said. “But it’s also difficult.”
He never imagined he would see so much loss, for so many years.
“I’ve had students injured, killed and crippled and it’s been 20 years,” Hole said. “I haven’t known a year of high school teaching where we didn’t send people.”
Sanchez’s news was particularly heartbreaking, he says, given their close relationship and the fateful moment of his deployment. They spoke via a video chat on Facebook in March, just before Sanchez left overseas, and planned to meet someone in November.
“I thought things were getting desperate and coming to an end,” Hole said. “(I thought) ‘He will be fine. He will come home. He will do his duty and he will come back.’ “
Related:As the war in Afghanistan ends, the family of an Indiana soldier killed in 2009 ask: Was it worth it?
In 2016, when news of Sanchez’s enlistment was shared on Facebook, someone commented in Spanish, “Is the handsome man going into the Marines? “
“Yes, he’s going to be the best-looking navy on the team,” his mother replied with a smiley emoji.
Sanchez hadn’t talked about joining the military during high school, according to his friend Rodriguez Sanchez, but they both got phone calls from recruiters on the same day during their junior year.
“We ended up getting together, so it was super cool,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. They graduated together in 2017 and completed basic training together at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
In March, they reunited and spent time together in California. Sanchez served in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, according to the Department of Defense.
“We have matured,” said Rodriguez Sanchez, reflecting on their journey to adulthood. “But when we were together, we were pretty much like in high school.”
They always hung out during their teenage years, Rodriguez Sanchez recalls, drawing closer to their passion for football and “family first” values. He recently rediscovered a video from AP US History where they re-enacted Paul Revere’s nighttime ride, brought to life with cheesy video effects and pleasant actors.
“We have a situation,” Sanchez recites on video, acting as the main character. “The British are coming.”
“Oh my God really? For real ?
He carried that unforgettable presence, as the type of person who would play the main character, through various moments in life.
“He’s always been himself. He’s always been Bert,” Hole said, recalling Sanchez in art class. “He was dumb sometimes, and he just had hilarious feedback on things… If he wasn’t here that day, you knew that… The class wasn’t the same anymore.”
But with this humor and joviality came kindness and dedication.
Sanchez’s jokes were never directed at anyone else, Hole said. He took time off from football to find a job at McDonald’s and save money for a car. As an artist, he was “a little eccentric” and “creative,” according to Hole. But more importantly, he “always finished all the projects he took on.”
Even at this young age, he was confident.
“He was just very comfortable with himself,” Hole said. “I kind of admire him, you know, I wish I was a little more like that myself.”
Logansport says “Thank you”
The Logansport community has come together to honor their late hometown, Marine.
At a McDonald’s, artists painted a mural of Sanchez. The local fire station displayed 13 US flags and the Logansport Police Department installed a 13-car siren, depicting each soldier who fell in the Kabul attack.
Local news site collects signs and displays Sanchez’s memory in a Facebook album. Some restaurants offer drinks for those who cannot make it home. Other local businesses have signs that simply say “Thank you”.
The Logansport High School Boys Football Team held a moment of silence during a recent match.
For a community with a large Hispanic population and a tight-knit high school – “the best of both worlds,” Hole says, because he’s small for a city school but not too big – Sanchez represented a slice of the community, the pursuit for something bigger than him.
Joining the Marines matched his personality because it was a place where “he could contribute,” Hole said. “And work towards his goal of creating a better life for himself.”
During their last conversation, Sanchez shared his appreciation for his former teacher. He wasn’t afraid to reach out and tell people they were special in his life, Hole recalls.
“’I think you’re a really good person and, you know, I try to be a good person too,” Sanchez told him.
Hole said he already thought he was a good person.
“I hope people will remember him,” he said, “as a great person”.
USA TODAY contributed to this report.