DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Gary Rehm, a 1998 graduate of Oberlin High School, died off the coast of Japan on Saturday when a Philippine container ship collided with the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.
"He made a career out of the Navy," said his uncle, Stanley Rehm. "He was going to retire in three months."
Learning that the Fire Controlman First Class was about to leave the service in 90 days adds another heartbreaking element to the already sad story.
He was aboard the U.S.S. Fitzgerald with 300 sailors aboard when unthinkable happened. Rehm was one of the seven who didn't make, but it was not for lack of trying. Rehm went above and beyond the call of duty, his uncle says.
"He saved 20," said Stanley Rehm. "He went back to get the other ones and they had to close the hatch because the ship was going. It would sink if they didn't. It was taking on so much water. So, he died a hero."
Stanley Rehm says the 37-year-old fire controlman's father is broken up.
"He went to work to try to get his mind off of it. They're all trying to tell him to go home and take care of the family," said Stanley Rehm. "I don't know. It's rough."
The victim's aunt says he was a sweet kid.
"He would help us out," said Janet Rehm. "When he would come home he would sit down and just talk and talk and talk."
Stanley Rehm adds his nephew was kind and generous.
"He died helping people, saving sailors on the ship with him. He called his kids, because he was 37 and they were just young 19 and 20 (years old)," he said.
The Rehm family has a lot of unanswered questions, and hope officials investigate thoroughly.
Stanley Rehm says the families of the seven killed in the collision are being flown to Japan for a memorial. The bodies will be returned home in the next few days.