Family, friends: Sailor killed in Japan set to retire soon

This combination of undated photos released Monday, June 19, 2017, by the U.S. Navy shows the seven U.S. sailors who died in a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off Japan on Saturday, June 17, 2017. From top left to right, Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Md.; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, Calif.; Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Va.; and Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, Calif. From bottom left to right, Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Conn.; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio. (U.S. Navy via AP)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Family and friends of a Navy sailor from Ohio say he was just months away from retiring and was thinking about becoming an auto mechanic when he was killed last weekend in a collision between a destroyer and a container ship off Japan.

Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37 was among seven sailors killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald when a Philippine-flagged container ship collided with it early Saturday. Authorities have declined to speculate on a cause. A delay in reporting the collision is under investigation.

Friends and relatives on Monday described the sailor from Elyria, roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Cleveland, as generous and easygoing. They say the Navy told his mother that Rehm died trying to rescue fellow sailors trapped in flooding compartments on the USS Fitzgerald.

The Navy didn’t immediately respond Monday to messages seeking comment, and a telephone number for Rehm’s mother in Virginia couldn’t immediately be found.

“When we heard that he ran in and helped save other sailors from drowning, we said that was Gary. That was Gary to a T,” said Rehm’s friend Christopher Garguilo, of Hampton, Virginia. “He never thought about himself.”

Rehm was inspired to join the Navy by his grandfather, a World War II sailor who took Rehm on tours of military planes and ships when he was a youngster. Rehm enlisted in 1998, right after graduating from Oberlin High School, said his aunt.

“He loved what he did,” said Rehm’s aunt Virginia Rehm, of Elyria. “He was a very kind-hearted, happy person who worked hard. It’s a big loss, it really is.”

After training in Illinois and San Diego, Rehm was stationed on the USS Ponce, which was deployed for a few months during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2004, Rehm was stationed in Virginia, where he lived with his wife until he was deployed to Japan on the USS Fitzgerald in 2015.

Garguilo said he first met Rehm through his daughter four years ago when Rehm fixed his daughter’s car, saving her hundreds of dollars.

“He was very loving, giving, always out helping others,” Garguilo said. “That’s just the type of the guy he was, never selfish.”

From that point on, Rehm became a family friend, with Garguilo’s daughter Alexis Garguilo calling him an “adopted mechanic brother.” Rehm was thinking about becoming an auto mechanic after his retirement from the Navy, according to Garguilo.

Rehm was modest and loved to joke around, play golf and hockey, and talk about his wife and family, said Rehm’s cousin Brad Rehm, of Elyria.

Brad Rehm said his cousin would surprise his friends and family by being the first to call and wish them a happy birthday from Japan.

“He just called me out of the blue,” said Rehm, who last spoke to him when his cousin called him on his birthday in February. “He was just fun to be around. There was never a dull moment with him.”