Sgt. Nathan Hays wasn’t supposed to be on the military plane that crashed into the mountains of Pakistan last week.
The 21-year-old Marine from Wilbur, Wash., had volunteered to fill in for a fellow flight mechanic.
That man’s parents recently called Hays’ parents to say thank-you and express their grief.
“Nathan’s family and his parents, they don’t hold any hard feelings,” said Pat Milliron, Hays’ great-uncle. “He was doing his duty. It was like him to volunteer.”
Hays normally flew on C-130s. When his family first heard about the plane crash last Wednesday, they called the Marines and were told it was not likely that Hays was aboard. The plane that crashed was a KC-130.
Later that day, the family’s hopes proved false.
The crash resulted in the single largest loss of American life since the United States began its campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Marines have not released any details of the plane’s mission or said what may have caused the crash. Officials have said they do not believe the plane was brought down by enemy fire.
Hays’ family will begin to say goodbye today in a private memorial service.
The family is struggling to accommodate the hundreds of friends who are hoping to mourn with the 150 family members in town for the service.
The Marine’s father, Jim Hays, is a Washington State Patrol trooper. His sister just enlisted in the Navy. Nathan Hays was a standout athlete and Eagle Scout during his childhood in Wilbur and many people in the town are hoping to say goodbye as well.
“We are having a hard time to make sure all of the law enforcement, Marines, Navy, the Boy Scouts can get in,” said Nathan’s uncle, the Rev. Tim Hays. “We are trying to maintain the integrity of the worship service and not have this become an event.”
Although most of the bodies have been recovered, the Marines have not indicated when the remains will be returned to the family.
When the body of Nathan Hays does come home, the family will hold a private ceremony, said the Rev. Hays.
On Thursday, at least 30 members of the family will be at the Naval Air Station in Miramar, Calif., for a national memorial service honoring all seven of the crew members who died in the crash.
Hays was born Dec. 14, 1980, in Libby, Mont. He was the middle child of Kim and Jim Hays.
In addition to his parents, he is survived by his big brother, Patrick, and little sister, Kassi. He is also survived by his grandparents, Gayle and Jeanne Hays, of Spokane, Glen Kelly, of Libby; as well as numerous aunts, uncles and cousins from throughout the Northwest.
The family requests that memorial contributions be sent in Nathan Hays’ name to three organizations.
The United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots, 5101 N. Assembly, Spokane, WA 99205
The Boy Scouts of America, Troop 779, 8441 Williams Road E., Wilbur, WA 99185
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8441 N. Indian Trail, Spokane, WA 99208.