Fairfax County salutes soldier killed during Afghanistan evacuation

It took approximately half an hour for the police motorcade escorting the body of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss to travel the 20-mile stretch of I-66 from Gainesville to the I-495 interchange in Merrifield.

Along the way, the procession encountered dozens of Fairfax County police officers, firefighters, and residents who gathered on and under overpasses yesterday (Friday) afternoon to honor Knauss, one of 13 American servicemembers killed in the Aug. 26 bombing at Kabul’s airport during the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, the 23-year-old Knauss grew up in Corryton, Tennessee, a village about 20 miles northeast of Knoxville, and joined the Army right out of high school. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan after previously serving there for nine months, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Killing at least 170 Afghan civilians, the attack on Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport occurred in the midst of a frenzied effort to evacuate thousands of people seeking to leave the country ahead of the U.S. military’s Aug. 30 departure deadline as the Taliban took control.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced Thursday morning that a funeral procession for Knauss would pass through the county after 3 p.m., advising community members to go to an overpass along the route from I-66 East to I-495 South if they wanted to pay their respects.

Accompanied by several police cruisers and motorcycles, the hearse entered from Prince William County around 3:20 p.m. and traveled east through Fairfax before turning south in the Merrifield area. Upon reaching Springfield, the procession took I-395 North on its way to Arlington National Cemetery.

The motorcade was expected to be overseen by a pair of helicopters, but they were apparently shelved as a late afternoon downpour significantly reduced visibility.

About a dozen people from different backgrounds assembled along the Gallows Road overpass by the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, undeterred by the rain that drenched the area around 3:45 p.m., just as the motorcade passed.

For Oakton resident Dennis Greza, the decision to watch the procession came from a personal place, spurred by seeing his brother serve in the Air Force. He said he wanted to pay respect to Knauss for making the “ultimate sacrifice.”

The service members killed in the Kabul airport bombing included 11 Marines and one member of the Navy, along with Knauss as the only Army casualty.

Elsewhere along I-66, Fairfax County police officers stood at attention, and American flags hoisted by fire engines greeted the funeral procession.

In a news release sent out at 4:16 p.m., Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced that they will cosponsor a bipartisan bill to award all 13 servicemembers a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the legislature.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the 13 servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last days of the war in Afghanistan,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement. “We must never forget their bravery. Honoring them with the Congressional Gold Medal is one way to remember their heroic service to our nation.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report.

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