Gary Rehm Jr. was following in his World War II veteran grandfather’s footsteps when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1998.
At age 37, the Elyria native was just three months short of retirement when he was killed over the weekend off the coast of Japan after a U.S. Navy destroyer collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan.
According to a news release from the Navy, Rehm, a Fire Controlman First Class, was reported missing after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippines-based merchant vessel at 2:30 a.m. Saturday while most of the 300 sailors aboard would have been sleeping.
The release said Rehm, along with six sailors, were found Sunday after divers gained access to flooded berthing compartments.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, said most of the damage is below the waterline, including a large gash near the keel.
“So the water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic,” Aucoin said at a news conference Sunday at the 7th Fleet’s home base in Yokosuka, Japan.
Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell said the victims might have been killed by the impact of the collision or drowned in the flooding, but Aucoin would not speculate on how the accident happened.
Investigations are expected from the Navy’s judge advocate general and U.S. Coast Guard as well as Japanese and Filipino authorities because of the location of the incident and where the other ship involved in the incident was registered.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said in a statement that as details emerge, they are proud of the “heroic effort by the crew to tend to the needs of those injured and save the ship from further damage while returning safely to port.”
“The Navy family comes together during tragic events such as this, and I want to thank those who continue to provide around-the-clock assistance to the affected families during these difficult days,” he said.
Stackley also thanked Japanese forces, who helped search for the seven deceased sailors and performed a medical evacuation for the ship’s commanding officer, for their support and assistance during the incident.
“In due time, the United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this tragedy, and I ask all of you to keep the Fitzgerald families in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us,” he said.
Chesapeake, Va., resident and Navy veteran Daniel Kahle said he hasn’t spoke with Rehm in years but that he remembered him to be friendly and considerate.
“Gary was one of those guys that always had a smile on his face,” he said. “(Gary was) such a great guy and (it’s) such a great loss. He needs to be remembered for the person we all knew him to be.”
Kahle served with Rehm on the USS Ponce while stationed in Norfolk, Va., and said while they were onboard, the Ponce was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Brad Rehm, of Elyria, said he most recently spoke to his cousin Gary when the sailor wished him a happy birthday in February.
“The way I feel right now is shocked,” Brad Rehm said. “He had three months left until he retired.”
Brad Rehm said his cousin’s parents, Gary Sr. and Anita, moved to Virginia, and his sister, Jessica, lives in Texas.
He is survived by his wife, Erin.
Gary Rehm was a graduate of Oberlin High School as a Lorain County Joint Vocational School student and Brad Rehm said he attended Elyria West High School for the first two years he was in high school.
The other six sailors killed were:
- Dakota Rigsby, 19, of Virginia;
- Shingo Douglass, 25, of California;
- Ngoc Huynh, 25, of Connecticut;
- Noe Hernandez, 26, of Texas;
- Carlosvictor Sibayan, 23, of California;
- Xavier Martin, 24, of Maryland.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.