Clockwise from top left: Kevin Houston; Brian Bill; Patrick Hamburger; John W. Brown; Michael Strange; Chris Campbell
Courtesy of families: Kelly; Bill; Peck; Brown; Jones; Campbell
President Obama paid his respects – and offered a shoulder to cry on – at Dover Air Force Base Tuesday as he consoled families of the 30 U.S. troops whose remains were brought home from Afghanistan
“I told him, I want you to give me my grandson back. I want him alive,” Madeline Bernice Strange tells PEOPLE. Her grandson, Navy SEAL Michael Strange, 25, was among the servicemen killed Aug. 6 when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan – the single deadliest loss in the decade-long war there.
“I told the President we never should’ve been there” in Afghanistan, said Madeline Strange. “And he told me, ‘I’m trying to get them out as quick as possible.’ “ Michael’s father, Charles, also tried to question the President, says Madeline Strange. “But Charlie started to cry so loud and hard, the President just held him.”
The Stranges and 29 other grieving families now struggle to plan funerals while their husbands’ and sons’ remains are sorted and identified through DNA, dental records and fingerprints.
Personal – and emotional – tributes offered a rare public glimpse inside the secretive world of the Navy SEALs, which lost 22 men in the weekend crash. Near Virginia Beach, where Kraig Vickers, a bomb disposal technician working with the SEALs, liked to surf, more than 200 surfers carrying red flowers ceremoniously paddled out into the ocean on Tuesday, attended by dolphins, to cast the flowers into the water in Vickers’s honor.
Here, PEOPLE puts names and faces to these American heroes. The full list of military casualties was released Thursday.
Clockwise from top left: Lou Langias, John Faas, John Douangdara, Jonas Kelsall, Stephen Mills, Matt Mason
Courtesy of Families: Langias; Faas; Douangdara; Kelsall; Mills; Mason
Alexander Bennett, 23, Army
Kansas City, Mo.
Bennett grew up in Tacoma, Wash., before joining the Army and had served in Iraq.
Darrik Benson, 29, Navy
Benson, a Navy SEAL who grew up in Napa County, Calif., had deployed several times to Afghanistan.
Brian Bill, 31, Navy
“He had laser focus. But he loved to let loose among his close friends. He’d do Jim Carey impersonations and get on the piano. He had an eclectic taste in music, from Beethoven to Metallica,” a friend, Jonathan Scofield, tells PEOPLE.
John W. Brown, 33, Air Force
Siloam Springs, Ark.
“He was interested in the medical field and told me joining the Air Force was an opportunity to help people in a different way from a hospital. He flew 300 days a year and earned a Bronze Star,” his dad, Dan Brown, tells PEOPLE.
Chris Campbell, 36, Navy
“If Chris though he could, he would try,” his mom tells Jacksonville’s Daily News. He supported the Wounded Warrior Project and was a fun-loving jock who played baseball, football, basketball and surfed.
David Carter, 47, Army National Guard
Carter, a Colorado National Guardsman from Aurora, was a pilot.
Jared W. Day, 28, Navy
“Jared joined the United States Navy because he loved this country, the people who live here, and the freedoms we all have,” his parents said in a statement, according to ABC. “The loss of our son and brother is indescribable, and our love and pride for him is unmatched and can not be measured. Jared’s memory will live in our hearts forever.”
John Douangdara, 26, Navy
Sioux City, Iowa
Douangdara, a SEAL who had grown up in South Sioux City, Neb., was a lead dog handler for his unit.
Spencer C. Duncan, 21, Army
Duncan, an Army soldier from Kansas, was a helicopter door gunner who had been in Afghanistan only a few months.
John W. Faas, 31, Navy
Faas graduated from Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, where he was valedictorian of his class and a quarterback on the football team, reports Minnesota Public Radio. “He was a man of strong faith, a man of strong conviction and was unique in his vision and calling,” his longtime coach and neighbor recalled.
Patrick Hamburger, 30, Army National Guard
Grand Island, Neb.
Hamburger, an Army soldier who grew up in Nebraska, arrived in Afghanistan only last week for his first tour of duty there.
Andrew W. Harvell, 26, Air Force
Long Beach, Calif.
The combat controller lived in Southern Pines, N.C., with his wife, according to the Southern Pines Pilot. He graduated from Long Beach Millikan High School, reports the Long Beach Beachcomber.
Kevin Houston, 36, Navy
Cape Cod, Mass.
“He’d ask to see my Vietnam photo album, then bring out his laptop and show me films of his missions. They were classified, but he said, ‘Aww, I can show you.’ He hugged me like he was my own kid,” Houston’s mentor, veteran Chris Kelly, tells PEOPLE.
Jonas Kelsall, 33, Navy
Kelsall, who also grew up in Shreveport, joined the SEALs and had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.
Lou Langlais, 44, Navy
Virginia Beach, Va.
Langlais was a Navy SEAL who lived in Virginia Beach and worshiped at the same church as Kevin Houston, another of the SEAL killed in the crash.
Matt Mason, 37, Navy
Mason, a Navy SEAL who grew up in Missouri, had been injured while serving in Iraq.
Stephen M. Mills , 36, Navy
Mills, of Arlington, Texas, served as a Navy SEAL for 14 years.
Bryan Nichols, 31, Army
Kansas City, Mo.
Nicols, of Kansas City, Mo., was a U.S. Army pilot who was about to return home to his family on a two-week leave.
Nicholas H. Null, 30, Navy
Null, a graduate of South Parkersburg High School, is survived by his wife Tanya and three children, reports the Parkersburg News.
Jesse Pittman, 27, Navy
Pittman, a Navy SEAL, was a former firefighter from California.
Thomas Ratzlaff, 34, Navy
Green Forest, Ark.
Ratzlaff, another Navy SEAL, of Green Forest, Ark., leaves behind a wife and two sons. He and his wife were expecting a daughter this fall.
Robert James Reeves, 32, Navy
Reeves, a Navy SEAL, grew up in Shreveport, La., and had been deployed to war zones more than a dozen times.
Heath Robinson, 34, Navy
Robinson, a Navy SEAL, grew up in Petoskey, Mich.
Nick Spehar, 24, Navy
Chisago City, Minn.
Spehar, of Chisago City, Minn., joined the SEALs and is remembered as a “quiet leader.”
Michael Strange, 25, Navy
Strange was a Navy SEAL who grew up in Philadelphia but had recently moved to Virginia and had become engaged. He wanted to be a nurse and always brought his grandma flowers.
“It was a thing between him and me to say ‘love to love’ before we hung up the phone. Last time, I forgot, and he called me right back,” Strange, 78, tells PEOPLE through tears. “For what he did in the SEALs, he was very tender.”
Jon Tumilson, 35, Navy
Tumilson, a native of Rockford, Iowa, served in the SEALs and would have had 20 years in the Navy in three years.
Aaron Vaughn, 30, Navy
Union City, Tenn.
Vaughn, a Navy SEAL, got married three years ago and lived with his family in Virginia Beach.
Kraig Vickers, 36, Navy
Vickers was an explosive-ordnance-disposal specialist in the Navy who grew up in Hawaii.
Jason Workman, 32, Navy
Workman, a SEAL who grew up in Utah, had served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil and Pennsylvania.
Daniel Zerbe, 28, Navy
Red Lion, Pa.
Zerbe, from Pennsylvania, was a pararescue jumper in the Air Force.
Clockwise from top left: Jason Workman, Nicholas H. Null, Heath Robinson, Thomas Ratzlaff, Jon Tumilson, Kraig Vickers
Courtesy of Families: Workman; Null; Robinson; Ratzlaff; Tumilson; Vickers