First published in the Sept. 2 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Though it took place more than 7,000 miles away, last week’s bomb attack outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, struck all too close to home.
Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Grant Nikoui, one of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in the Aug. 26 attack, had strong ties to San Marino and frequently spent time with his family here.
Yvette Nikoui-Smith, Kareem’s aunt, said she and her family are “devastated” by the tragedy.
“We lost a part of our world,” said Nikoui-Smith. “There are no words to describe how we are feeling besides heartbreak and sadness. But we are also so proud of Kareem. He was doing something incredible. He was helping adults and children during a difficult time.
“He always put others before himself and he was such a selfless human being. All he wanted to do was be a Marine and help others in need.”
Nikoui graduated in 2019 from Norco High School, where he joined the Junior ROTC before becoming a Marine. Just 20 years old, Nikoui was stationed in Camp Pendleton.
Kareem’s father, Steven Nikoui, is Nikoui-Smith’s brother. Nikoui-Smith, who lives in San Marino, has four children who graduated from San Marino High School — Avishan, Samia, Sevyana and Alec Nikoui-Smith — and are Kareem’s cousins.
“We are a very close family,” said Yvette Nikoui-Smith. “We are very tightknit. We loved to spend time together.”
She said the family congregated for dinner each Sunday at her parents’ home in San Marino.
“Sunday dinners were a big thing in our family,” she recalled. “Every Sunday, we would all gather at our parents’ house and spend the night together. This happened every single Sunday. Kareem and all of his cousins would spend time together playing outside for hours on end. He loved his baba’s house. It was a place for Kareem to play with his cousins. This was the go-to place for all the family get-togethers. This was probably the favorite memory my kids had growing up of their cousin Kareem.”
The family is of Persian/Iranian descent and “baba” is Farsi for “dad” or “patriarch.” Kareem loved visiting his grandfather and spending time on his acre in San Marino.
“They would spend all day outside whether they were playing tag, riding bikes or having ‘campfires,’” Nikoui-Smith said. “Kareem loved the outdoors and would take all the kids around the park at my parents’ house. He would identify all the bugs and insects and explain to us what they all were. Every time my kids see a ‘potato bug’ and ‘rollie pollies,’ they always think of Kareem. They always would talk about how these were some of the best times they spent together.”
Nikoui-Smith remembers the last time they saw Kareem, shortly before he deployed to Jordan.
“We all went to dinner and shared countless memories that we will cherish forever,” she said. “I want to share that Kareem was always making others laugh. He was such a funny guy. That whole time at dinner he was making everyone laugh. It was such an amazing night, and we are forever thankful that we got to spend that time with him.
“At dinner that night he constantly reminded me and my kids how thankful and excited he was that he was able to take the GoPro we had bought for him after his graduation. We are so thankful we were able to see the world through his eyes and his journey there, doing what he always wanted to do.”
That was another of her nephew’s heroic traits.
“Despite the circumstances, we are so proud of the man he became over the past 20 years,” she said. “Everyone who was able to meet or come into contact with him was truly blessed with his presence. My family and I are honored to represent Kareem and his legacy.”
For those who want to acknowledge Kareem’s legacy, a GoFundMe page has been initiated to “support his family with any unforeseen expenses that might arise,” according to the fundraiser.