News that the USS Fitzgerald was struck by a cargo ship last week was quickly made worse as the news of the deaths of seven US emerged. In the aftermath of the accident off the coast of Japan, many are asking how such a collision could happen. Now a story of incredible heroism has emerged. Gary Rehm, one of the seven killed in the accident, died saving the lives of his fellow sailors.

Gary Rehm, 37, was the most senior of the seven sailors killed. “The sailors on the ship he called his kids,” Rehm’s uncle Stanley Rehm Jr. told The Daily Beast. “He called them his kids.”

Those who were on ship with Rehm say he saved as many as 20 lives after the accident. He himself was trapped in a flooded berthing as the crew was forced to seal off the flooding vessel.

“He said, ‘If my kids die, I’m going to die,’” his uncle said. “He could have walked away and been safe.”

“He wanted to be just like his grandfather,” his uncle noted. Rehm’s grandfather, Stanley Rehm Sr., served on a destroyer, the USS David W. Taylor, DD 551, in WWII.

After the collision with the cargo ship tore a massive hole in the Fitzgerald’s hull, Rehm began moving sailors out of the flooding compartments. “He helped everybody who needed help,” his uncle said. “He was always ready to help anybody who needed it. He was just that kind of guy.”

Rehm was that kind of hero, even when there was no emergency. He cared for the sailors who served under him and often invited those who were stationed far from their homes to come to his for holidays.  “Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter,” the uncle said.

Rehm had no children of his own. “He had the Navy,” the uncle said.

Rehm had served in the Navy since he graduated from high school. The Navy was his life. His uncle said that he’d hoped that this tour would secure for him a promotion to Chief, and that he might come away with a new command.

This story is developing now, and Rehm’s heroism is clearly being celebrated among his colleagues. Though his death is tragic, the example of selflessness he demonstrated is a beacon that shines through the tragedy. This won’t be the end of his story, for sure.