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ELYRIA, Ohio — The uncle of a U.S. Navy sailor from Elyria who was killed over the weekend in Japan says he “died a hero.”

Stanley Rehm, the uncle of Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., shared with Fox 8 Monday what the family has learned about his nephew’s final moments.

Gary, an Elyria native, was on the USS Fitzgerald or the “Fighting Fitz” as it’s known.

The sailors on board the Navy destroyer lived up to that name after the ship was struck by a merchant vessel nearly four times its size.

The bulbous bow of the freighter sliced a gaping hole in two berthing compartments where 116 sailors slept.

According to the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, the ship was in danger of sinking and was saved by the “heroic efforts” of the crew. But seven lives were lost. It likely would have been more if not for the the men and women doing what they were trained to do.

“His dad told me that he saved 20,” Stan explained of his nephew.  “He went back down to where the other ones were at to save them….The ship was flooding so fast they had to close the hatch to save the ship. They had to sacrifice the few to save the many. Guess he died a hero.”

The full details of what happened and why will take some time. The U.S. Judge Advocate General, the U.S. Coast Guard and authorities in Japan and the Philippines will investigate.

The bodies of Gary Rehm and the six other sailors are on their way back to the United States. 

Their families will head to Japan in the coming days for a memorial service on board the USS Fitzgerald where it sits docked at its base.

Continuing coverage here.