The Marines under the command of Staff Sgt. James R. Andrews Jr. knew he cared about them, said Lt. Col. Ned G. Paulson, Andrews' squadron commander. "Their problems were his problems," Paulson said.
On Wednesday, Marines filled the white chapel at the U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station to show Andrews' family how much they cared for him, too.
About 300 Marines, family members and friends attended a memorial service for the 31-year-old officer, who was killed in a helicopter crash in the Imperial Valley on Saturday.
The accident involving Andrews and five other members of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 is still under investigation, said Master Sgt. Steven Merrill, a spokesman for the base. The others escaped from the CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter with minor injuries.
During the service, as a trumpet player played taps, the sobbing of Andrews' 21-year-old wife, Nyla Andrews, could be heard. The two had met at her high school prom in Los Angeles when James Andrews, a Maryland native, was a Marine recruiter, said his father-in-law, George Stewart.
The staff sergeant used to declare that it was love at first sight, Stewart said as he held Andrews' 3-year-old son. "We found no fault in him, and Nyla loved him," Stewart said.
The couple had settled in Los Angeles and had two daughters in addition to the son. Andrews is also survived by his mother, four sisters and one brother.
After the service, Paulson praised the 14-year-veteran who earned 10 medals.
Andrews "was always the first to volunteer for a job and was always willing to work longer hours," the squadron commander said. "He had a unique capability to persuade his men to do whatever job it was needed done."
When the Sea Stallion crashed in the desert about 15 miles southeast of the Salton Sea, Andrews was a passenger on the return flight to the Tustin base. The six men had been training for two weeks in Yuma, Ariz., Merrill said.
The family's pastor, the Rev. A. Harold Jupiter, said Andrews was happy with his job.
"He loved the Marines," said Jupiter, the godfather of Andrews' 9-month-old daughter. "He loved what he did."
Andrews' funeral will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Los Angeles. After the service, he will be buried at Inglewood Cemetery. Parade Route Strawberry Festival parade begins here at 10:30 a.m. Saturday