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'We were just blissfully happy' | Wife of soldier killed in Kabul describes love for high school sweetheart

Ryan Knauss, 23, died in an attack outside the Kabul, Afghanistan airport on Thursday. He graduated from Gibbs High School in Knoxville, his family said.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alena Knauss has no regrets.

Just a day after watching her husband's remains return from Afghanistan in a flag-draped coffin, she insisted he would not be sorry either.

"For him, it's the ultimate honor he could give back to his country," Alena said. "To help those people and to know he was helping people, he would not be sorry. He would not regret it."

Staff Sergeant Ryan C. Knauss, 23, died Thursday after an attack outside the Kabul, Afghanistan airport, his commanders said. He was the only Army soldier to die in the attack that killed twelve other American servicemembers.

Alena said she and Ryan were high school sweethearts, even though he graduated from Gibbs and she attended a rival school. The pair met when they worked together at a Fountain City pizza parlor when she was 15 years old.

"I can't say it enough, God, he was handsome," she said with a laugh. "I probably did not do that company justice. I was very distracted by the handsome man beside me doing his job properly and being annoyed with me for not doing mine."

Eventually, she said, her mom helped convince her to say yes to a date. The couple would have celebrated their 5-year wedding anniversary on October 7. 

"We just clicked," she said. "Our souls were very intertwined."

She said his confidence practically knew no bounds, and he was always there for her when she needed him.

"He was charismatic, people gravitated toward him," she said. 

Credit: US Army
Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss in his official U.S. Army photograph

There was no dissuading Ryan from serving his country. A former classmate said he wrote in an elementary school yearbook that he wanted to join the Marines when he grew up. 

Even when he underwent grueling sessions as part of his psychological operations training, Alena understood. She grew up in a military family, too.

"I think the only person he was scared for was me. He did not question his job," she said. "If they needed him in the middle of the woods at 4 a.m., he'd be in the middle of the woods at 4 a.m. If they needed him in Afghanistan in 30 minutes, he'd be there."

"His only qualm, I think, was leaving me behind."

She said their house near North Carolina's Fort Bragg feels empty now. 

"Everything gets better with time, but this is one of those things where it's going to be a long time," Alena said. "He is one of those presences that will always be missed by even people who passed him on the streets and especially by me." 

"I have no regrets," she said. "We were just blissfully happy." 

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