SAN ANTONIO - He saved lives and sacrificed his own. On June 17, FCC Gary Rehm died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan.
Rehm left Ohio to join the U.S. Navy when he was just 18.
Monday would have been his birthday, and his sister and the San Antonio community stepped up to honor him in a unique way.
"He was pretty amazing. He's my older brother, my big brother, the only one I have… had," his sister Jessica Neal said solemnly.
Almost 20 years later, he died on duty, saving several comrades as the USS Fitzgerald went down.
His sacrifice was something Neal said doesn't surprise her at all.
"That's just kind of the person he was. He was one of the senior people so he didn't think twice to get all his guys out, or his kids as he called them," she said.
Neal is a teacher at Fort Sam Houston Elementary School, where they celebrated her brother on what would have been his 38th birthday. In addition to a flag-raising ceremony, they deemed Monday a random acts of kindness day in honor of a man who was as kind as they come.
"One day an older couple's car broke down on a six-lane road. He pushed it all the way across all the lanes," Neal said.
They created a hashtag #rakRehm and people are posting the kind acts they're doing, all with Rehm in mind. People are paying for strangers in line behind them at stores, they're writing holiday cards to military members overseas, they're leaving free car washes at gas pumps for strangers, and children are drawing pictures to give out.
"My brother's niece gave money to someone at a laundromat and it was a veteran and then they ended up paying it forward to someone else at the laundromat that also happened to be a veteran," Neal said. "I'm just hoping it's going to continue beyond today paying it forward."
It's a way for Rehm's legacy to be associated with something as inspiring as he was. Rehm served in Japan for almost two years. He was scheduled to return to the United States in September.
"It made me happy and smile instead of sad. There were definitely tears today remembering that he's not here with us, but focusing on the positives were the big part," Neal said. "We don't want him to be forgotten and he means so much to so many that it's nice to have his name coming up in a positive manner over and over again."
Anyone who wants to participate can post a picture of an act of kindness and use the hashtag #rakRehm.
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