Lance Corporal William "Billy" Crouse
Updated: Friday, 24 Dec 2010, 1:38 PM EST
Published : Wednesday, 22 Dec 2010, 5:44 PM EST
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - A Fort Wayne marine died Tuesday in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal William “Billy” Crouse was 22.
His family tells NewsChannel 15 that Crouse and his bomb-sniffing dog were patrolling in Afghanistan when they were hit by an improvised explosive device.
"He put himself in harm's way to save others, at least that's what we've been told. We're waiting on 100% confirmation on that," said Jennifer Chaffee, Crouse's sister. She said as he was being airlifted from the scene, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
It was Crouse's first tour of duty and he had been in Afghanistan just six weeks.
"He wanted to make a difference and this was way his way of doing that," said Chaffee. "And without him being here - he can't speak for himself - it's our job to say, 'freedom isn't free.' It comes at a huge price and this is that price."
Crouse grew up in Angola and Fort Wayne and played football at Northrop High School before moving to South Carolina.
"He was a phenomenal human being," said longtime family friend Cindi Baker. "Billy loved life. Billy loved being a marine. Billy loved being proud to serve in the military so that we all could be free. He will always be my hero."
Though it's a sad time, Chaffee said their family is trying to remember to celebrate Crouse's life. "He constantly had a smile on his face. He wanted to make everybody happy. He was proud to be a marine."
As the holidays approach, the news of his death is still sinking in. "It's not real. You hope you're gonna wake up and and someone's gonna say, "It's a huge mistake, we found something we thought was his and we assume it was him.' But the more things that come in, the more it cements in your mind that this is real and it's time to deal with it," Chaffee said.
Cindi Baker, who's known Crouse since the day he was born, hopes his death serves as a reminder for all Americans. "We want to celebrate his life and let the people out there know that all these people overseas - at this time of year and all throughout the year - they're there to make a difference for us here in the United States."
Family members have set up a facebook page in his honor.
Funeral arrangements haven't been finalized yet, but Chaffee said the family plans to bury Lance Corporal Crouse in Fort Wayne.