Michael Ukaj's family continues to grieve the loss of a son, but through the pain, there was pride in the way Ukaj lived his life.

Ukaj is a brother to his Marine family. To his brothers, he was known as "U-Jack."

And service could have been his middle name.

"He was the voice of reason," said Matt Dyment, a friend of Ukaj's.



Ukaj was celebrating his 34th birthday with friends when a limousine he was riding in crashed in Schoharie, killing 20 people — 17 of them passengers in the limo. About 50 of Ukaj's closest friends and family, including parents Mary and Kyle, attended a memorial service Wednesday in Johnstown.

Friends like Bradley Armstrong say Ukaj's name will always be associated with compassion.

"He was the type of person who wanted you to succeed, and he would do whatever he could so the other person could succeed," Armstrong said.

Fellow Marine and former roommate Jonathan Nunez says he was stunned when he heard the news.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks and it still hits me like a ton of bricks. He’s family,” said Nunez.

The combat veteran was deployed to Iraq for the Marine Corps. His military brothers now hold tight the memories they have of Ukaj.

"He was very modest, lived very modestly. Came back from Iraq, found his rims missing on his car, he went out [and] replaced his tires. It was a big surprise for him, but like I said, smart answer after smart answer,” said Nunez.

However, his service didn’t stop when he retired from the military. Ukaj volunteered for Search and Rescue of Upstate New York.

Dyment traveled across state lines to pay his final respects to his friend.

“He didn’t come home to say, ‘OK, my job’s done.’ He was still out there helping everyone that he could. He would give you the shirt off his back, go buy another one and give you that one,” said Dyment.

They said the veteran also enjoyed playing video games and refurbished old pinball machines.

While the two former Marines say this wasn’t the reunion they were planning, they will keep his memory alive. The two smiled when they recalled the memories of their friend.

“Even out of the Marine Corps — he’s not like anyone else I would’ve ever known. He's Ukaj,” adds Nunez.

A private burial with full military honors was held at Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville on Wednesday afternoon. Even in his death, Ukaj's family is carrying on his legacy of serving others. They’re asking for donations in his name to be made to PTSD Foundation of America or to the first responders in Schoharie.