Master Sgt. Michael Wert, an intelligence chief for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point in Havelock, N.C., was vacationing this past weekend with his family at the beach when he saw two boys struggling in the surf, the Marines said in a statement.
His wife, Debbie, said her husband rushed into the water to help while she went to call 911. Their daughter, Katrina, grabbed a boogie board and followed Wert, a Michigan native, into the water.
"She managed to help the boys onto the board, but didn't see her dad with them," Debbie Wert said in the statement. "The one little boy told her (Michael Wert) had to let them go and had died."
Rescue personnel found Wert but could not revive him.
Wert joined the Marines in 1989 after graduating from Alma High School, where he was a cross-country runner, The Saginaw News reported. He served in Operation Desert Storm and supported Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"He was a good student and a fine young man," said school secretary Anne Jarrett. "He died trying to save someone else. Not many people would do that."
Alma City Manager Phillip J. Moore said some in the small community north of Lansing have called city hall to see how they can help the family.
"It's a tragedy, but we are all proud of him," Moore said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Wert is survived by two other children, his parents and two siblings.
A memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Visitation was scheduled for Friday at Dewey Funeral Home in Alma, with funeral services Saturday at Alma United Methodist Church.