LOGANSPORT, Ind. — More than 100 people were killed, including 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans, in a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul airport on Thursday.
Among the fallen is Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, the Department of Defense confirmed on Saturday.
“I want him to be remembered as the goofball he was, and he was always there. If anybody needed him, he was always there,” said USMC Cpl. JJ Leota.
Before his time in the Marine Corps, Sanchez was a student in the Logansport Community School District, graduating from Logansport High School in 2017, school officials said.
According to LHS principal, Matt Jones, Sanchez was a well-respected student, athlete and member of the school community. He was one of 17 members of his graduating class to join the military.
“He was honored to be putting on the Marine uniform and serving his country,” Jones said.
Jones said Sanchez played on the school’s varsity soccer team, was a dedicated artist who took many classes along with honors and dual credit college courses, and that he was a “bright, athletic young man who was popular, well-liked by his soccer teammates, classmates, coaches and teachers.”
Hearing the response from the Logansport community comes as no surprise to Leota, who served with Sanchez both overseas and stateside. He said they quickly became more than just friends.
“We were brothers. You don’t get to choose who your brother is. We’re more than friends,” shared Leota.
The two met when Leota said he was moved to a new unit from another platoon.
“He was one of the first people I met. He was so funny and he was just one of those guys that, if he was in the room, everybody’s laughing,” Leota said. “If you had talked to anybody, that’s what they’ll say.”
“We’d do everything together, like every night. We lived together; we did everything with each other,” said Leota.
At that time, the two lived several rooms away from each other, but in 2019, deployed to Spain together, where they spent more than four months.
“Probably one of my favorite memories with him was that Christmas, he was the only person I spent it with. We just sat in the room and just talked with each other and talked about our families, talked about our home lives and stuff,” remembered Leota.
He said after heading back to the U.S., the two were moved to different platoons again but eventually ended up at the same base, where they were stationed for more than a year and a half. Despite going separate ways, and at times, being not only across the country but across the world from each other, Leota said the two stayed in close touch and so did many of their friends.
When he heard the news of the attack in Kabul, Leota said he immediately messaged more than a dozen of his friends in Afghanistan to check in on them. He said he initially only heard back from one person.
“A day later, one of them, he let me know that when the explosion happened which platoon it was and who might’ve been involved,” said Leota. “I didn’t know if they were okay.”
“When Sanchez’s name came up, they weren’t sure until the next day when it was confirmed on August 26th, that’s when it was confirmed that he was in it, and I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to like comprehend it,” said Leota. “You don’t prepare for it because you don’t want it to happen and I just don’t want him to be forgotten.”
He said their friends have a group message that Sanchez was also a part of. While they work to process a mix of emotions that came with the news of his death, Leota said their friends have continued sharing memories, funny pictures and videos, while showing support and love for each other.
“You live with each other, you eat with each other, you cry with each other, you drink with each other, you just do everything together,” said Leota. “All we have is each other. When we’re on deployment, that’s your buddies when you don’t have Wi-Fi or service. You talk to your loved ones back home, but they don’t know what you’re going through. The only people who really do are the ones who are there with you.”
He said during their time in the field, which could be for days at a time, Sanchez would tell jokes and help keep the morale high. He said he was also a great storyteller.
“I don’t know if you could say he was a great singer, but he definitely loved to sing,” said Leota, laughing.
Leota said above all, Sanchez was a great friend to all who knew him.
“Alpha 4, we called him Bert the squirt. I don’t know how that nickname came to be, but that’s just what we called him,” he said, laughing again. “He always brought a smile to your face, no matter what the situation was.”
On Sunday morning, the remains of Sanchez and the 12 other service members killed in Kabul, arrived on U.S. soil, where a dignified transfer took place at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
“My buddies over there, they told me that they were the ones that had to you know, pick him up and take him into the plane to take him back and that was one of the hardest things they ever had to do,” said Leota. “I’m not there with them so I just know especially when you see it firsthand, it’s — I’ve lost family before, but it wasn’t like this.”
As the community of Logansport and people around the world continue to mourn the loss of Sanchez, who made the ultimate sacrifice, Leota wants people to remember the kind and caring person that he was.
“It’s hard, but I’m just glad I got to know him,” he said.