Navy SEALs: The personal stories of fallen fighters
- Kimberly and Aaron Vaughn. Photo: Courtesy Vaughn family | Date: Sep. 09, 2007
Brian Bill had plans for when he finished his military service. He wanted to return to graduate school and hoped one day to become an astronaut.
For those who knew him, such lofty goals were not out of reach.
"He set his standards high. He was that kind of person," Kimberly Hess, a friend who graduated with him in 2001 from Vermont's Norwich University, told The Advocate newspaper. "He was remarkably gifted and very thoughtful. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for you no matter the time or day."
Diane Warzoha, who had Bill as a student at Trinity Catholic High School in Stamford, said it was no surprise that he fulfilled his goal of joining the SEALs.
"Brian just wanted to do his best, to protect other people ... Challenge did not deter him, ever."
Three of the crew members aboard the downed Chinook were from the same Army reserve unit - Bravo Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment - based at New Century AirCenter in Gardner, Kan.
Spc. Spencer Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Kan., had written to friends about how much he loved working as a door gunner on a Chinook helicopter. But The Kansas City Star reported that he also told friends that he missed Kansas sunsets and lying in a truck bed listening to the radio and cuddling with his sweetie.
He joined the military in 2008 and had been in Afghanistan since late May.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols, 31, a pilot from Kansas City, Mo., was eager to get back to flying after a stint handling paperwork as a unit administrator. So when the word went out that people were needed to train for a mobilization, Nichols volunteered.
Lt. Col. Richard Sherman, former commander of Nichols' unit, said one of his favorite memories is flying a pace car with Nichols to the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.
"My happiest and saddest memories are now tied to him," said Sherman, who was in command and working as an instructional pilot when Nichols joined his unit.
"He had no enemies. He was one everyone wanted to be around. You just liked flying with him because you knew he was going to improve as a young pilot and get better every time you flew with him."
Specialist Alexander Bennett, 23, couldn't wait to deploy again after returning from spending a year in Iraq in 2009. So the reservist moved on his own from the Tacoma, Wash., area to Overland Park, Kan., to join Bravo Company.
"He wanted to be part of our unit when it deployed," said Sherman. "He was a typical young kid and liked to go out and have a good time with the guys."
Patrick Hamburger planned to propose to his girlfriend, but had a job to do first: a mission in Afghanistan.
The 30-year-old sergeant from Grand Island, Neb., joined the Nebraska National Guard when he was a senior at Lincoln Southeast High School, but this was his first deployment, his brother Chris Hamburger told The Associated Press.
"He didn't have to go, and he wanted to go because his group was getting deployed. He wanted to be there for them. That's him for you," Chris Hamburger said, adding that Patrick always looked out for his two younger brothers and friends.
He was also the kind of guy who helped his girlfriend raise her 13-year-old daughter from another relationship, as well as the couple's own 2-year-old daughter, and planned to propose marriage when he got home, Chris Hamburger said.
Patrick Hamburger had been in Afghanistan less than two weeks and had arrived at Forward Operating Base Shank a few days before climbing aboard the helicopter to rush to the aid of an Army Ranger unit under fire from insurgents.
"It doesn't come as a total surprise that he was trying to help people and that's how it all ended up happening," Chris Hamburger said.
If someone was sad, Michael Strange tried to make them smile. He loved snowboarding, surfing, scuba diving, running, and shooting guns on the range.
"He loved his friends, his family, his country; he loved making people laugh. He was one of a kind," Strange's brother, Charles Strange III, said outside the family's Philadelphia home, where American flags were planted throughout the neighborhood.
Strange, 25, decided to join the military when he was still in high school, and had been in the Navy for about six years, first stationed in Hawaii and for the last two in Virginia Beach, where he became a SEAL about two years ago, his mother, Elizabeth Strange, told The Associated Press.
But he always told his family not to worry.
"He wasn't supposed to die this young. He was supposed to be safe," Elizabeth Strange said. "And he told me that, and I believed him. I shouldn't have believed him because I know better. He would say, `Mom, don't be ridiculous and worry so much. I'm safe."'
Charles Strange said his brother loved the SEALS, especially "the competitiveness, getting in shape and running and swimming and all of that."
He also had two sisters and recently became an uncle. The family last saw him in June, when he came for a weeklong visit for his birthday, his mother said. He was supposed to be back for Thanksgiving.
"It was going to be such a good time," his mother said.
His grandmother Bernice Strange remembered him as a young man who loved cheesesteaks and the Philadelphia Eagles and always brought her flowers.
"He was a wonderful grandson to have," she said Monday night. "God truly blessed me with him."
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