Jonathan Blunk, a father of two, was among the 12 people killed in the Aurora theater shooting.
The 26-year-old Nevada native had high hopes for his future, with plans to re-enlist in the Navy and the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.
Blunk served three tours in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea between 2004 and 2009, close friend James Gill of Brighton, Colo., told the Associated Press.
He died in the shooting after he pushed his girlfriend Jansen Young under the theater seat, saving her life. Blunk told her to stay down.
ABC News reported he told her, We have to get down.
Blunk moved to Colorado in 2009 after separating from his wife, Chantel, and worked for a hardware store.
Gill said he had trained to be a firefighter and EMT and was going to school to be a police officer.
"Everything about him was, 'I want to help people,'" said Gill.
He had two young children with his wife, a girl, 4, and a boy, 2.
"How do you tell them the situation, when I can't understand it myself?" asked Chantel Blunk, who said Jonathan was supposed to be home the Saturday after the attack.
"My daughter had already picked out her dress and made her sign," she said. "When I told her daddy wasn't coming home, she didn't understand. She asked if he would be here for her birthday."
Chantel Blunk said she wasn't surprised that John died trying to save someone else's life.
"Whether he knew the person or not, he would have tried to save them. That's just Johnny," she said. "I am strong for my children. My son has his blue eyes. My daughter has his smile. It's like I still have him in them."