Navy SEAL Michael A. Monsoor told his family in Garden Grove before he went to Iraq that he knew the dangers of war but he believed in himself and others on his SEAL team, who were like brothers to him.
"He knew what he believed in and would stand by what he believed in. Of this, he couldn't be corrupted," said Monsoor's younger brother, Joe.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, 25, was killed in combat Sept. 29 in Ramadi, Iraq, west of Baghdad. Not much is known of the circumstances surrounding his death, family members said.
Last week, family members spoke of his life and military duty, including his dedication to becoming a SEAL, a goal he achieved after initially dropping out of the training course.
He was expected to return in another week to see his family and watch his 21-year-old brother play in an upcoming football game at North Dakota's Minot State University, where he is a junior and tight end.
Although they chatted on the telephone, the last time the brothers saw one another was during spring break. That was when they drove cross-country to the university and Michael spoke about the discipline it took to overcome pain during his first SEAL training, which he had to quit.
"Michael had a broken heel and he still had to pass more physical tests," his brother said. "He was running hard in sand and the pain mounted, but he told himself, 'Don't pass out, I can't pass out.' But he couldn't continue.
"He rang the bell," his brother said, a signal that a trainee has quit the program.
Michael Monsoor stayed in the Navy and waited for another chance. He was assigned to Europe for two years, and when his mother, Sally, visited him in Italy, she said she found him focused, "working out, swimming and running," so he could reenter the SEAL program.
For Monsoor, it was his chance to join one of the nation's elite forces, she said, adding that when he finally graduated, it was her son's and the family's proudest moment.
The 25-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., is one of the most grueling training programs in the military, and the dropout rate exceeds 50%.
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.
In August, when the Pentagon announced the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Alan Lee, who was the first SEAL to die in the Iraq war, it was the first recognition that the SEALS are involved in the battle to wrest Ramadi from insurgent control.
The loss has shaken the proud Marine family -- Michael's father, George Monsoor, and older brother, Jim, 27, are both former Marines -- which has sought solace in knowing that Michael did not die in vain.
Relatives, neighbors and friends have visited the family's home and left flowers. Neighbors tacked yellow ribbons that read "Support our Troops" on trees and sign posts in recognition of Monsoor.
"He was friendly and would wave whenever he did the lawn outside," said neighbor Patricia Stanton. "He was nice, very sweet and I know he was dedicated to the service."
Monsoor enlisted in the Navy in March 2001 and graduated from SEAL training in March 2005, said Lt. Taylor Clark, a Navy spokesman.
Rear Adm. Joe Maguire, a SEAL and commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, issued a statement praising Monsoor, who died "conducting some of our military's most important missions."
"We hope that in time Michael's family is comforted in knowing that he died fighting for what he believed in and we will not forget his sacrifice," Maguire said.
Monsoor attended Garden Grove High School, where he played on the Argonaut football team as a tight end and graduated in 1999.
"In football, he was one of the smaller guys for a defensive end and really skinny," said Ricardo Cepeda, 24, a former teammate who teaches history and coaches football at Garden Grove High. "But he was tough and would lay everything on the line."
In addition to his parents and brothers, Monsoor is survived by a sister, Sara Fernandez of Anaheim; and nieces and nephews.
Total U.S. deaths* as of Friday:
In and around Iraq: 2,729
* In and around Afghanistan: 280
* Other locations: 56
Source: Department of Defense\o7* Includes military and Department of Defense-employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances