One of the seven sailors who lost his life after a container ship slammed into the side of a Navy destroyer reportedly sacrificed himself to save his shipmates.
When the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald was struck by the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal merchant ship Saturday, 37-year-old Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr. took action to save those in danger. The Navy ship sustained significant damage below the water line, causing the ship to take on water. As the collision occurred in the middle of the night, many of the sailors onboard were asleep when the ship was hit.
As the berthing compartments flooded, Rehm dove into the water around two dozen times to rescue his shipmates, the family of the deceased sailor revealed to WBNS-10TV in Columbus, Ohio.
“He was saving guys,” Stanley Rehm, the sailor’s uncle, told the Daily Beast. “He saved quite a few of them.”
Rehm, being older than a number of his shipmates, often referred to the other sailors serving on his ship as his kids. “He said, ‘If my kids die, I’m going to die,'” his family explained.
When Rehm dove into the water to save the remaining six sailors, the hatch was closed to keep the Fitzgerald, which had taken on dangerous amounts of water, from sinking, the Navy told the family.
“The ship was flooding so fast they had to close the hatch to save the ship,” Rehm’s uncle explained. “They had to sacrifice the few to save the many. Guess he died a hero.” He is, according to various accounts, believed to have saved at least 20 men on board the damaged Navy vessel.
“He could have walked away and been safe,” his uncle added.
Rehm, who was raised in Elyria, Ohio, is survived by his wife Erin.
The investigation into the deadly collision, which occurred in waters near Japan, is ongoing. There are numerous questions concerning when the ship was hit, why the container vessel changed course, and how a U.S. destroyer could be hit by a merchant ship three times its size.
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