Tuesday, the day of the funeral of Staff Sgt. Mark A. Spence, a Clarence family questioned why their 24-year-old son, brother and husband had to die so young.
The Air Force is trying to find out why a military helicopter crashed Nov. 8 in Italy, killing Spence and five others.
At the same time, "why" was fondly remembered as the question that consumed the young airman's life.
"We got our first family computer when he was 14," recalled his father, Mark T. Spence.
One day, between the time the elder Spence left for work and came home unexpectedly, the computer had disappeared. Entering his son's bedroom, he saw that the entire unit had been disassembled and laid out on the floor.
"I said, 'What are you doing?' " his father related. "He said, 'I just want to see how it worked, Papa.' "
The young Spence was given an hour to put the computer back together. It was done in 30 minutes.
"He wanted to know how things worked," his father said. "His biggest question growing up was 'Why?' "
Friends, family and fellow members of the military paid their respects Tuesday to the inquisitive, ambitious Spence. After a full day of calling hours, funeral services with military honors were held Tuesday night in the Amigone Funeral Home in Clarence.
The young airman had a promising career as an avionics sensors team leader at the air base in Aviano, Italy. While he was geographically out of harm's way for military actions related to the war on terrorism, the work of Spence and his crew of eight protected the lives of the pilots flying missions in fighter jets.
"It gave him such pride to know that he was keeping these pilots safe," his father said.
Condolences from fellow airmen also let his loved ones know that he was valued in other ways.
"He made us laugh. He made us enjoy life more," said his mother, Kim, recounting some of the messages they have received.
Though he had signed up for a six-year stint in the Air Force, Spence already was looking beyond his discharge in 2010. Due home in January to take the State Police exam, he was hoping for a future in law enforcement.
His wife, Elena, is expecting a baby next spring. The couple would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary next week.
Never really one to seek advice as a teenager, Spence had questioned leaving his family in the United States, said his father, who told the son, "Mark, you've got to live your own life."
"And he did," his father said. "He lived it to the fullest. No challenge was too great. Fearless, but not reckless."