The Last Texan Killed in Afghanistan

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Texan David Lee Espinoza was 3 months old when the events that would lead to his death began. In the wake of 9/11, hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers would be pulled into the war on terror, a war started by a Texan that spanned four presidents, cost trillions of taxpayer dollars, and took countless lives across the globe.

On August 26, 2021, 20-year-old Espinoza became one of the last service members to be killed in Afghanistan. As the country fell to the Taliban and the United States began its withdrawal, desperate Afghans traveled to the Kabul International Airport to escape. A suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS destroyed the gate Espinoza was charged with guarding. He and 12 other service members were killed, while hundreds of Afghans lost their lives, including at least a dozen children. 

In Laredo, Espinoza’s hometown, the community mourned his death. Businesses along I-83 put up signs in memoriam, and thousands turned out to watch Espinoza’s coffin be transferred from the airport to the Joe Jackson funeral home. People mourned across the Rio Grande Valley, and in Rio Bravo, where Espinoza was born, makeshift memorials cropped up in front of homes and flags were drawn to half-staff. 

At the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, a candlelight vigil to commemorate Espinoza’s life, and the attacks of 9/11, was held on September 11. None of the academy’s students were old enough to remember a time before the war in Afghanistan.  


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On September 10, the Laredo LBJ varsity football team lost to rival Cigarroa by a score of 40-14. There was a brief ceremony on the sidelines in remembrance of those who died in Afghanistan along with Espinoza.


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Espinoza was only 20 years old when he was killed. Many students and teachers at Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Laredo knew him personally. Before he was interred, the procession drove to the school, where members of the community and students gathered to mourn.


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Service boots rest on top of an American flag at a small memorial for Espinoza.


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Two kids ride an ATV in front of a memorial dedicated to Espinoza in Rio Bravo.


Ivan Armando Flores/Texas Observer

Nathan Ortega said Espinoza was his best friend. The two played online video games together while Espinoza was deployed, Ortega says. Before he died, Espinoza was beating Ortega at a battleship-style game. Ortega says he had held off on making his next move so that Espinoza wouldn’t win.

“I thought he would be burying me first, not me burying him,” Ortega says.

Opening image: Laredo police officers salute the body of David Lee Espinoza as his family surrounds him on the runway.

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