He was brainy and quirky, family and friends said, a versatile athlete who preferred to shine the spotlight on others rather than himself.
"He was never concerned about himself," Suzanne Kristensen of Washington said of her only child, Erik S. Kristensen. "He always put others first."
Kristensen, 33, a lieutenant commander in the Navy SEALs, was leading a mission to rescue other SEALs on June 28 when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by Afghan insurgents in Konar province. All 16 Navy and Army personnel aboard died.
Kristensen, whose father, Edward, is a retired Navy rear admiral, traveled widely with his family as a child, living in Japan, Guam and Washington, among other places. He considered the District his home, his mother said, and he graduated from Gonzaga College High School in 1990. He graduated in 1995 from the U.S. Naval Academy.
At Gonzaga, Kristensen won academic awards but never picked them up, his mother recalled. "He just wasn't a person who wanted the limelight on him," she said.
Kristensen, who played lacrosse at Gonzaga, also was an offensive and defensive tackle on the football team who earned the nickname Spider because he looked "kind of funny" when he crouched with his spindly legs in a four-point stance, recalled teammate Roman Oben, who plays for the San Diego Chargers in the National Football League.
"He was a just really a nice guy, a solid individual," Oben said. "You always knew he was going to be doing something good with himself."
Another teammate, close friend Andy Battaile, said Kristensen was an outstanding student who "was very studious and would never act up in class. But he could ask a question that would make the professor laugh."
"He was big and imposing physically, but he was just a big, gentle giant with a kind and beautiful soul," said Battaile, who is director of admissions at Gonzaga. "He always had a smile on his face."
At the Naval Academy, Kristensen majored in English and rowed on the crew team. After graduation, he was commissioned an ensign and served in the engineering department of the USS Chandler in Everett, Wash.
In 1999, he began teaching English at the Naval Academy while attending graduate school at St. John's College in Annapolis.
The following year, at age 27, Kristensen's dream of becoming a Navy SEAL came to fruition. He was the oldest in his class to graduate from the program, his family said.
Christian Swezey, a close friend, said it was Kristensen's nature to consider others before himself.
Once, when the two were at a popular bar on Capitol Hill, an attractive waitress showed keen interest in Kristensen, recalled Swezey, a copy editor and sports writer at The Washington Post.
"I said, 'She really likes you,' " Swezey said. "But [he] wanted me to feel good and said, 'No, she really likes you.' "
Kristensen loved to read, friends said. "Moby-Dick" was his favorite book. He was a prolific writer who fired off well-crafted letters.
He also loved television, Swezey said -- so much so that he didn't own a TV set. "He didn't have a television because he watched it all the time when he got the chance," Swezey said.
Fluent in French, Kristensen was selected for a military program to attend graduate school at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. He was to begin this fall.
"He believed deeply in defending the principles of our nation," Battaile said. "He kind of let his actions speak for himself."
Funeral services will be held July 19 at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.