PORTLAND, Ore. – Bryan Bertrand never talked about joining the military while growing up in Coos Bay, Ore. Instead, he wanted to be a rock star.
In one of the last letters his family received from the Marine, the 23-year-old lance corporal told them he'd saved enough money to buy an electric guitar. It was to be waiting for him when he returned from his tour of duty in Pakistan.
On Wednesday, Bertrand's family learned he was among the seven Marines killed on board a military plane that crashed into a mountain in Pakistan.
"He didn't want to be on the sidelines," his father, Bruce Bertrand, said from his Coos Bay home, along the southern Oregon coast. "He loved what he was doing."
Bryan Bertrand had served as a Marine for three years and could have been home about a month ago, but he volunteered for another tour of duty, his father said.
Bruce Bertrand said two Marines stationed in Eugene drove to Coos Bay to bring the family the news about the crash.
"It's terrible, but we're proud of him," Bertrand said.
Bertrand was single, and the youngest of three children. His sister Rebecca Peters says he always managed to hold his own against his two older sisters. "He was always grounded for being mean to us," she said.
Bertrand's father teaches history and geography at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, where Bryan graduated in 1997. His mother, Patty, teaches reading and math at Bangor Elementary School, in nearby North Bend.
The family last saw him in July, when he returned home for his sister's wedding.
Bertrand's girlfriend, Natosha Monroe, an intern at a Seattle research company, said she suspected Bryan was aboard the KC-130 when she heard that it crashed.
"I just had a feeling that I wasn't going to see him again," she said. "I'm still thinking he'll call in a few days. ... It hasn't really sunk in."
Bertrand played basketball and football at Marshfield High. He earned all-state honors as an outside linebacker, said William Lilley, his position coach. Bertrand cut short his football career at a California junior college to join the military, Lilley said.
"He's an all-American type kid," Lilley said. "He was a kid that was proud of his country."
Classmates remembered him as a top athlete who played basketball and earned all-state honors playing football.
"He was a pretty popular guy," said Quinn Busby, who graduated a year later than he did. "He was friendly, an athlete, involved in lots of activities."