From the time he was eight years old Margaret Levens says her son Donnie dreamed of being able to fly.
Now, a mixture of both grief and pride fills the family as they come together to mourn the loss of a loved one who died in service to his country.
Around two Saturday afternoon the family of Marine Sergeant and Long Beach native Donnie Levens says they received a call informing them the 25-year-old was among the Marines who died in a helicopter crash Friday off the coast of Africa. Family members gathered Saturday at Margaret Levens' home to mourn his loss and remember his life.
In his mother's living room, Sergeant Donnie Levens' large family of aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings gathered to remember his life.
"He had a beautiful personality. A loving personality. A friendly personality. A friend everyone would want to have," said mother Margaret Levens.
Levens says a childhood dream led her son Donnie joined the Marines right after high school.
At eight years old he told his mother he wanted to fly.
On Saturday, photographs helped Margaret Levens think back on how that young boy had grown into a courageous and admirable man.
"It's a mixture of emotions. How much he's grown. How much he's changed. How much he's become a man. An intelligent bright loving man that has meant a lot to this family and will always be remembered. Always be remembered," said Levens.
Flags are flying at half-staff in Long Beach in memory of Sergeant. Donnie Levens.
His family says that flag symbolizes what he gave his life for.
"It's hard, but knowing that your child is doing what they love makes a difference and Donnie did what he loved and he did it for his country and he did it for his family to have peace and to be able to live in peace. And he did it for us. And that's what makes the difference," said Levens.
Family members say Levens was one of 12 Marines on board one of two military transport helicopters that crashed into the sea just before sunset Friday off the coast of Djibouti.
Initial reports indicate the helicopters collided in mid-air during a night time training mission.
Officials say there are no indications of hostile fire.
The helicopters are CH-53E.
Authorities say all the Marines on board have been accounted for.
So far, however, there has been no official word released to the public or the media confirming their conditions.
Officials do say two of the Marines rescued Friday were taken to a hospital where they are said to be in stable condition.
Authorities say weather conditions were good at the time of the crash with light winds and high visibility.
The incident remains under investigation.