It was an early weekday morning when Bandera resident John Crain walked down his driveway to find a new flag at his gate.
“What a nice surprise,” Crain reminisced. “Thank you for caring, whoever you are.”
The purpose of the flag was immediately clear to Crain.
At the base of his driveway and in front of his gate stands a memorial of 13 crosses, each with their own flag and each marked with the names of the 13 service members killed in a bomb attack in Kabul in August of 2021.
On a rock behind the crosses features a metal silhouette depiction of a soldier kneeling in front of a fallen brother, signified by a helmet on top of a gun. Next to that rock, a metal silhouette of a German Shepherd features the words “Left Behind,” a sentiment echoed by an upside-down American flag that flies above the entire memorial.
The 13 service members recognized with an individual cross and flag are:
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
• Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California
• Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
• Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton,
• Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.
• Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts
• Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri
• Navy Hospital Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio
Crain, who spent two years in the military before being honorably discharged and has three sons who served, says he constructed the memorial so people don’t forget about the needless bloodshed that happened under President Biden’s leadership.
“I’m not here to cause any trouble. I’m here to honor these people who died senselessly,” Crain told the Bulletin. “This should never have happened.”
Crain said the idea for the memorial came to him early in the morning the day after the attack.
“I couldn’t sleep. I knew what I had to do. It was like God was talking to me,” he said.
Enlisting the help of Bandera local and retired marine Doug Duree, the duo constructed the memorial together.
“I couldn’t have done it without Doug,” said Crain. “He’s an integral part of all this.”
Crain also said that the memorial could not have been made without the help of his neighbor across the street, Kelly Christensen, who works with veterans who have PTSD.
Christensen says she is grateful for the memorial. “My whole family are military, marines and air force,” she said. “I work with veterans who made it back, and the government isn’t even taking care of them. To know these families lost these kids and didn’t’ get to start life again after … it’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Last December, a bipartisan bill from the U.S. House of Representatives was signed into law awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the 13 service members who lost their lives in Kabul.
Biden said the 13 service members were “heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others.”
Crain said those sentiments are baseless.
“I can’t even say his name,” Crain said, referring to Biden. “This is on him, and he has yet to apologize. This memorial will stay up until he acknowledges that.” Now that a new flag is off his to-do list, Crain says he can focus on additional refurbishments, including nighttime lighting and treatment of the crosses so the names don’t fade.
“It’s important that they aren’t forgotten,” said Crain, who added he hopes to have a ceremony honoring them this November in time for Veterans Day.
The “Left Behind” memorial is located right next to the intersection of Broad Oak Drive and Big Meadows Drive in Bandera.
John Crain thanks everyone who can make it out.