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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.”

Photos by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
Maj. Phil Hanf was the keynote speaker at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony.

Following a year off as a result of the pandemic, San Marino residents were genuinely enthused to gather in Lacy Park on Monday morning for the city’s annual acknowledgement of Memorial Day.
Well over 100 people assembled just west of the War Memorial in socially distanced fashion, but the extra space and mask requirements didn’t dim the passion as attendees paid their respects to the 53 San Marinans who gave their lives on the world’s battlefields.
Among those elected officials accepting invitations to speak were Congresswoman Judy Chu, state Sen. Anthony Portantino and Assemblymember Ed Chau. Chu and Chau presented proclamations honoring the city’s consistent efforts to recognize the holiday and Portantino reenacted a presentation he had previously made virtually to Maggie Lee, president of the Chinese Club of San Marino, and San Marino city manager Marcella Marlowe. Portantino recently honored Lee and Marlowe as the two women from San Marino who have played an integral role in supporting their community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new monument that will honor local soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Wars On Terror will include San Marino’s J.P. Blecksmith, who was killed on Nov. 11, 2004 while leading his troops into battle.

The Enduring Heroes Memorial, which will be located at the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove Blvds. in Pasadena, will be dedicated on Memorial Day, which is Monday, May 29. The ceremony will begin at 3:00 p.m. in an area that will bear the name of Defenders Park.

The monument pays tribute to soldiers from Pasadena and the neighboring cities of Altadena, La Cañada Flintridge and San Marino.

Ed Blecksmith, J.P.’s father and a United States Marine Corps veteran, will be one of the speakers at the dedication ceremony.

“The Enduring Heroes memorial and dedication will honor these young men and women who stepped into the breach to keep this Nation free and independent and who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that freedom,” Ed Blecksmith said.

Those recognized on the eight-foot bronze sculpture are Army First Lieutenant Todd J. Bryant, Marine Lance Corporal Dion M. Whitley, Marine Lance Corporal Sergio H. Escobar, Army Reserve Specialist Carla Jane Stewart, Army Specialist Adam J. Rosema, Army Private First Class Cory F. Hiltz, Marine Lance Corporal Rogelio A. Ramirez, Army Specialist William J. Gilbert, Army Green Beret SSG Scott R. Studenmund, Army Sergeant Joseph F. Stifter and J.P. Blecksmith, who was a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marino Corps.

The sculpture depicts a combat soldier triumphantly holding the American flag. Christopher Slatoff, a noted local artist, sculpted the piece, using inspiration from the stories relayed to him by the families of those who gave their lives.

J.P. Blecksmith attended San Marino schools before he enrolled at Flintridge Prep. There, he excelled in both the classroom and on the athletic fields. He earned four letters in track, three in football and two in soccer. As the quarterback of the Rebels football team, J.P. was named 1st team all-CIF as both a junior and a senior and was voted the Prep League’s Most Valuable Player in 1998. He was named to three national All-American teams and was recruited by dozens of Division 1 schools. He was also voted the Prep League’s Most Valuable Track Athlete in 1999 and competed in nine different events during his career. His civic duties included serving as 10th grade class president, becoming a member of the National Honor Society and being selected to serve as a peer counselor during his senior year.

J.P. received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy and entered in June, 1999. He participated in the varsity football program during his four years and lettered as a senior wide receiver. He graduated in May, 2003 and accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

In April, 2004, J.P. was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment of the First Marine Division and commanded the 3rd Platoon of India Company. After training with his platoon for four months, the Battalion deployed to Iraq on Sept. 10, 2004. J.P. was killed by a sniper as he directed his troops from a rooftop.

Blecksmith was awarded the Purple Heart, and in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton on April 20, 2005, was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with a Combat ‘V,’ which was presented to his family in front of the Third Platoon.

The Marine Corps Reserve Center in Pasadena was renamed Blecksmith Hall in his honor on Nov. 11, 2006, two years after his death. A memorial wall at Flintridge Prep also pays tribute to J.P. and The Tribune holds a 5K walk and run in his honor each July 4.