First Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr died along with six other sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald Saturday even though Rehm could have saved himself. Instead, he chose to save his fellow shipmates.
On Saturday, the USS Fitzgerald and a Philippines-flagged cargo ship collided into one another outside Tokyo Bay in Japan. Seven sailors aboard the Fitzgerald died as a result.
Rehm’s uncle said the 37-year-old sailor called the younger crew members his “kids” and various accounts credit him with saving at least 20 after the collision.
“He said, ‘If my kids die, I’m going to die,'” Stanley Rehm Jr. told The Daily Beast. “He could have walked away and been safe.”
Rehm was considering retirement when his tour ended in three months unless he managed to secure a promotion to chief, his uncle said. Sadly, Rehm did not make it out before his colleagues were forced to close the hatch he had jumped into in order to stop the ship from sinking.
“The ship was flooding so fast they had to close the hatch to save the ship,” Stanley said. “They had to sacrifice the few to save the many. Guess he died a hero.”
The cargo ship’s bow punctured the steel armor of the ship, opening a hole in the quarters where more than 100 sailors slept. Emergency hatches were closed to prevent the ship from sinking.
David Dykhoff, a retired Navy captain, told GMA that “The mentality is that you’re going to fight any catastrophes, any casualties, where they occur and preserve the rest of the ship.
“And I guarantee that anybody would do everything they could.”
USS Fitzgerald, named for United States Navy officer Lieutenant William Charles Fitzgerald, is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the US Navy. In 2017, the ship was involved in a collision with a cargo vessel, seriously damaging the destroyer. Seven sailors died in the accident.