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'I wouldn't wish this on anyone,' Navy SEAL widow says

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Navy SEAL widow remembers her hero
  • NEW: Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn leaves behind 2 children and his wife
  • NEW: He loved his job," Vaughn's wife says
  • NEW: Navy SEAL Tommy Ratzlaff "died defending everyone he loved," nephew says
  • Sgt. Patrick Hamburger of Nebraska was "selfless," his brother says

(CNN) -- Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn "wouldn't want to leave this Earth any other way than how he did," his wife told CNN, a day after she learned her husband was one of 30 U.S. service members killed in a helicopter crash Saturday in Afghanistan.

"He loved his job," Kimberly Vaughn said. "There was no way -- even if you could tell him that this would have happened he would have done it anyway. All those men are like that. They're selfless."

The Navy confirmed that 22 SEALS and eight other U.S. service members died when a CH-47 Chinook crashed in the restive Wardak province early Saturday morning. It was the single largest loss of life for U.S. troops since the Afghan war began in late 2001.

They were part of a "quick reaction" force sent to assist members of the 75th Army Ranger Regiment pinned down by enemy fire in a fierce firefight, a U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity told CNN. The mission targeted a Taliban commander directly responsible for attacks on U.S. troops, military officials with knowledge of the operation said Sunday.

Insurgents are believed to have shot down the helicopter, said the official, who was not authorized to release details to the media. The Taliban claimed militants downed the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Known Taliban leader had been targeted

Kimberly Vaughn saw TV reports about the downed helicopter Saturday morning, but the tragedy reached her home when her doorbell rang.

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"I thought, 'Oh, hopefully it's just a neighbor,' and as I rounded the stairs I saw the men in uniform and I just fell to my knees," she said. "There's no preparing for it. It's something you see in the movies. It's not something you're supposed to live through."

Her father was standing with her to hold her up as the Navy officers told her that her husband was killed in action.

"I fell to my knees and cried and didn't want to hear it, but it's the truth," Vaughn said. "You want it to be a mistake. You want them to say it's the wrong person, but I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Complex landscape where troops died Video

Aaron Vaughn called his wife's cell phone Friday afternoon and spoke to her and their 2-year-old son Reagan, she said.

"It was actually a great conversation -- probably just about time before he went out to work that night," she said. "We got to tell each other we loved each other, so it was a great conversation to have."

Aaron and Kimberly, married for three years, also have a 2-month-old daughter, Chamberlyn. He was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia,

"I want to tell the world that he was an amazing man, that he was a wonderful husband, and a fabulous father to two wonderful children," she said. "He was a warrior for Christ and he was a warrior for our country and he wouldn't want to leave this Earth any other way than how he did."

Vaughn's grandmother called him "a great American" who wanted to be a Navy SEAL ever since he was a boy.

Geneva Carson Vaughn recalled one of the last conversations she had with him.

"I told him to be careful and he said, 'Granny, don't worry about me.' He said 'I'm not afraid because I know where I'm going if something happens to me.' Aaron was a Christian and he stood firm in his faith," she said, her voice heavy with emotion.

"He's with the Lord now and I'll see him again some day."

The family of Navy SEAL Tommy Ratzlaff confirmed to CNN that he was among those killed, but they were reluctant to say much about Ratzlaff or his job.

Nephew Jeff Adams, who spoke via phone from Green Forest, Arkansas, Sunday said that Ratzlaff would want them to "keep a low profile," because as a Navy SEAL you've "got to stay secretive just to do his job."

"He would have been grateful for all the support he's getting," Adams said. "We're proud of him. He had a lot of accomplishments. He did what he loved and died defending everyone he loved."

Sgt. Patrick Hamburger, a soldier in the U.S. Army, was also on the fatal flight, his family said. Hamburger knew he was about to embark on an important and secret mission when he spoke to his family for the last time a few days ago, his brother said.

Hamburger, 30, grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and joined the Nebraska National Guard soon after graduating from high school. A helicopter flight engineer, he arrived in Afghanistan only last week for his first tour of duty there, younger brother Chris Hamburger told CNN.

He had told the family he wouldn't be in touch "because they had stuff to do," Chris Hamburger said.

Hamburger's longtime girlfriend, Candie Reagan, and family members "got a pretty bad feeling about it" when they first saw news reports of a downed U.S. helicopter Saturday morning, his brother said.

"It was so close to where he was at and we all started talking back and forth," Hamburger said.

U.S. Army officers visited Reagan's Grand Island, Nebraska, home Saturday afternoon to tell her Hamburger was killed.

"I was walking out of work and his girlfriend called on the phone in total hysteria and told me, and I told everybody else," Hamburger said. "They showed up at her door."

Patrick Hamburger has a 2-year-old daughter with Reagan, who he was planning to marry when he returned to Nebraska next May, his brother said. He was also helping raise Reagan's 13-year-old daughter, Chris Hamburger said.

CNN blog: Afghanistan Crossroads

Hamburger sent an e-mail to Reagan the day before his death. She read the e-mail to CNN's Don Lemon.

"Please don't worry about me," Hamburger wrote. The e-mail assured Reagan that he was "doing everything in his power to be safe and to make it home in one piece."

"Don't worry, this place isn't going to change me, I'm going to change this place," his last e-mail said.

"Pat was always looking out for everyone around him," Chris Hamburger said. "... he was always taking care of us. He would get himself into bad situations to help us. He was selfless. He didn't worry about him(self) half as much as he worried about everybody else. You could have been a complete stranger" and he would have helped you.

It was his selflessness that led him to Afghanistan, he said

"His group was getting deployed and he wanted to be with them," he said. "He said it was only right that he would be there, too."

Hamburger's family is gathering in Lincoln waiting for the return of his body. His girlfriend's brother, Sgt. David Mason, was also in Afghanistan and is escorting Hamburger home.

CNN's Laurie Ure, Brian Todd, Barbara Starr and David Ariosto contributed to this report.