- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

They came to the special operations forces from far-flung corners of the country — some of them motivated by the 9/11 attacks that Osama bin Laden masterminded. They were intensely patriotic and talented young men with a love of physical challenges and a passion for the high-risk job they chose.

Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill, for example, had seemingly boundless ambitions, according to those who knew him as a high school student-athlete in Stamford, Conn.

A skier, mountaineer, pilot and triathlete, he hoped to complete graduate school after his military service and then become an astronaut.

“He loved life; he loved a challenge; and he was passionate about being a SEAL,” his family said in a statement Monday.

Petty Officer Bill and 21 other SEALS were among 30 Americans and eight Afghans killed Saturday when a rocket-propelled grenade fired by a Taliban insurgent downed their Chinook helicopter en route to a combat mission. All but two of the SEALs were from SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed bin Laden, although military officials said none of the crash victims had been on that mission in Pakistan against the al Qaeda leader.

The crash was a somber counterpoint to the national jubilation that greeted news of bin Laden’s death. Yet families and friends of the SEALs killed aboard the Chinook spoke of the dedication and tight-knit camaraderie that tided them through all sorts of ups and downs.

Here are the stories of some of the fallen:

Matthew Mason

A severe arm injury during fighting in Fallujah in 2004 didn’t keep Matthew Mason off the Iraq War battlefield. Nor did it dull the competitive fire of the avid runner and former high school athlete from outside Kansas City.

Within five months of losing part of his left arm, absorbing shrapnel and suffering a collapsed lung, he competed in a triathlon. He soon returned to his SEAL unit. Associated Press did not have his Navy rank.

“He could have gotten out of combat,” said family friend Elizabeth Frogge. “He just insisted on going back.”

The father of two toddler sons, Matthew Mason grew up in Holt, Mo., and played football and baseball at Kearney High School. He graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 1998. His wife, who is expecting their third child — another boy — also attended Northwest Missouri.

The SEAL returned to Missouri in May to compete in a Kansas City triathlon and took his family to Walt Disney World for the first time this summer, Miss Frogge said.

“He loved doing what he did,” she said. “He was the type of guy who thought he was invincible.

Jon Tumilson

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