When Navy SEAL Marc Alan Lee talked to his wife last week from Iraq, he was upbeat as always, discussing their future, his SEAL team's planned return to Coronado, Calif., in October and the prospect of starting a family.
The next day the 28-year-old Lee, a petty officer 2nd class, was killed in a prolonged firefight with insurgents in Ramadi, making him the first SEAL killed in Iraq.
Two other SEALs were wounded in what a reporter embedded with U.S. troops described as an hourlong firefight between heavily armed and aggressive insurgents and a force of SEALs, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi troops.
As one of the U.S. military's most elite and secretive fighting units, the SEALs almost never reveal their missions to the public, even long after completion.
Lee's death, announced Friday by the Pentagon, is virtually the first recognition that the SEALs are involved in the battle to wrest Ramadi from insurgent control.
Maya Lee, 25, said she never considered that her husband might be killed when his Coronado-based SEAL team deployed to Iraq this spring.
The couple met while he was in SEAL training and she was studying dance at UC Irvine; they married four years ago.
The SEALs, she said, give off an aura of invincibility.
"They're such heroes, so strong, that never in my mind did I think this could happen," she said in a quiet but strong voice during a phone call Saturday night from upstate New York, where she has gone to be with her family.
"Marc was amazing. He was my best friend, my love," she said.
In his calls from Iraq, he preferred not to speak of the violence in Ramadi, she said.
"Everything was planning for the future, for October," said his wife, who has been working in fashion consulting and public relations.
"We laughed and talked about him coming home and what we were going to do. We talked of buying a house and having children."
In an e-mail to his wife earlier this summer, Lee mentioned going into an Iraqi house on a mission and seeing children there: "The youngest girl was a glimpse into the future of our daughter, really cute curly hair, small and petite. It made me want a family so bad with you. Once again I am in a rush to write this as I am rolling out of here in less than an hour. No worries about anything. I am fine."
Lee's mother, Debbie Lee, said in a statement from her home in Surprise, Ariz.: "In this mother's eyes, he will always be a hero and greatly missed."
Rear Adm. Joe Maguire, a SEAL and commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, issued a statement praising Lee and the two wounded SEALs. "We want their families and all Americans to know that their loved ones' sacrifices were not in vain."
Stars & Stripes newspaper reported that last Wednesday's assault was the biggest action in a campaign against insurgent strongholds in the Sunni Triangle.
Lee was killed as he and other SEALs stormed a building with insurgents barricaded inside. He has been posthumously awarded a Bronze Star Medal for Valor, a Combat Action Ribbon and a Purple Heart.
He grew up in Hood River, Ore., where he excelled in soccer and enjoyed skiing and weightlifting. His brother Kris, 32, served in the Marine Corps.
In 2001, Lee enlisted in the Navy and the next year began the 25-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado. It is one of the most grueling training programs in the military, and the dropout rate exceeds 50%.
When he developed pneumonia, he had to leave training. After a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier as an aviation ordnance technician, he returned to SEAL school in 2004 and graduated that November.
"For Marc, becoming a SEAL was like a dream come true," his wife said.
His funeral is pending at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, across San Diego Bay from the SEALs home base.
Since she received the official notification of her husband's death, Maya Lee has had two SEALs with her to offer emotional support and help with arrangements.
The experience has broadened her view of SEALs.
"They have this toughness about life generally," she said. "But then, when this happens, you find out they really care about you."