Fallen SEALs remembered as heroes

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

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.

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.

Sad news in Kansas

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 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."

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