Navy SEALs: The personal stories of fallen fighters
- Kimberly and Aaron Vaughn. Photo: Courtesy Vaughn family | Date: Sep. 09, 2007
By DAVID CRARY AP National Writer
Just three months after the nation lauded the anonymous Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden, it is getting to know in poignant detail about their colleagues who died aboard a downed helicopter in Afghanistan.
They came to the special forces from far-flung corners of the country - some of them motivated by the 9/11 attacks that bin Laden masterminded.
They were intensely patriotic and talented young men with a love of physical challenges and a passion for the high-risk job they chose.
Brian Bill, for example, had seemingly boundless ambitions, according to those who knew him as a high school student-athlete in Stamford, Conn.
A skier, mountaineer, pilot and triathlete, he hoped to complete graduate school after his military service and then become an astronaut.
"He loved life; he loved a challenge; and he was passionate about being a SEAL," his family said in a statement Monday.
Aaron Vaughn, a 30-year-old father of two from Virginia Beach, Va., met his wife, Kimberly, when she was a Washington Redskins cheerleader on a USO tour in Guam. Vaughn had aspired to a military career since childhood and told his parents after 9/11 that he wanted to become a SEAL.
"He felt, and so did the other members of his team, that the very existence of our republic is at stake," his father, Billy Vaughn, told NBC's "Today."
"Because of that, Aaron was willing to give his life."
Jason Workman, 32, of Blanding, Utah, also cited 9/11 as his motive for aspiring to join the special forces, childhood friend Tate Bennett told The Deseret News. He completed his Mormon mission to Brazil and Philadelphia, attended college, then joined the Navy with the specific goal of becoming a SEAL.
"Not making it just wasn't an option," Bennett said of his friend, who leaves behind a wife and 21-month-old son.
Workman, Vaughn, Bill and 19 other SEALS were among 30 Americans and eight Afghans killed Saturday when a rocket-propelled grenade fired by a Taliban insurgent downed their Chinook helicopter en route to a combat mission. All but two of the SEALs were from SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed bin Laden, although military officials said none of the crash victims was on that mission in Pakistan against the al-Qaida leader.
The crash was a somber counterpoint to the national jubilation that greeted news of bin Laden's death. Yet families and friends of the SEALs killed aboard the Chinook spoke of the dedication and tight-knit camaraderie that tided them through all sorts of ups and downs.
Jon Tumilson, 35, of Rockford, Iowa, was remembered as a feisty high school wrestler who later competed in marathons and triathlons as part of his preparation for a special forces career.
"He was willing to do whatever it took. He wanted to be there," neighbor Mark Biggs told the Mason City Globe Gazette. "That was his second family."
Former SEAL Howard Wasdin, author of the book "SEAL Team 6," said on CBS's "The Early Show" that elected officials in Washington could take a lesson from the fallen SEALs.
"We got our politicians pointing the fingers about who's to blame for our credit rating, and in the meantime, you've got the best and the brightest out there giving their lives," he said. "Our leaders need to take a play from the playback of the Navy SEALS: Be a team and quit all the infighting."
Here are the stories of some of the fallen:
A severe arm injury during fighting in Fallujah in 2004 didn't keep Matthew Mason off the Iraq War battlefield. Nor did it dull the competitive fire of the avid runner and former high school athlete from outside Kansas City.
Within five months of losing part of his left arm, absorbing shrapnel and suffering a collapsed lung, Mason competed in a triathlon. He soon returned to his SEAL unit.
"He could have gotten out of combat," said family friend Elizabeth Frogge.
"He just insisted on going back."
Mason, the father of two toddler sons, grew up in Holt, Mo., and played football and baseball at Kearney High School. He graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 1998. His wife, who is expecting their third child - another boy - also attended Northwest Missouri.
Mason returned to Missouri in May to compete in a Kansas City triathlon, and took his family to Walt Disney World for the first time this summer, Frogge said.
"He loved doing what he did," she said. "He was the type of guy who thought he was invincible."
Jason Workman had his sights set on becoming a SEAL as a young teenager. He was about 14 when his older brother graduated from West Point. That's when he knew he wanted to be an elite soldier, friend Tate Bennett told The Deseret News. Then came the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and Workman's calling grew even stronger.
"He didn't become a Navy SEAL by chance," Bennett said. "He knew that's what he wanted at a young age and made it happen."
After returning from his Mormon mission, Bennett said, Workman went to Southern Utah University and later joined the Navy.
Across his small hometown of Blanding in southern Utah, flags were flown at half-staff as residents mourned the loss of one of their own.
Even as a SEAL, Workman came home periodically. During his last trip, he led training sessions with local law enforcement, sharing his military skills, and planned to provide more training during a trip home this fall, Mayor Toni Turk told the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Jon Tumilson got an early start on his preparation to join the SEALS. He had been a wrestler in high school and competed in marathons and triathlons.
Neighbors remembered the Rockford, Iowa, man as a warrior committed to the SEALs, no matter the pain he endured in training or the risks he ran on each mission.
"When he did something, he put his all into it," Jan Stowe, a neighbor of the Tumilsons for more than 30 years, told the Des Moines Register.
Tumilson, who was 35 when he died, "was going to be a Navy SEAL since I can't remember when," Stowe said. "He's like a hero to everyone here."
Another neighbor, Mark Biggs, said people were shocked by his death.
"You just never thought it would happen to Jon," Biggs told the Mason City Globe Gazette. "He's done so many dangerous things."
Friend Justin Schriever remembered Tumilson as "a die-hard at everything. He'd always go the extra mile on everything. He wouldn't let anything stop him from accomplishing something."
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