EAST GREENWICH TOWNSHIP, NJ (CBS) — Ken Iannelli heard a knock at his door Wednesday that changed his life forever. Two Marines came to his home in East Greenwich Township, New Jersey, to tell him and his wife that their son died in a helicopter crash.

“He was a great son, a great student, a great friend,” said Ken Iannelli. “He loved life.”

Twenty-seven-year-old First Lt. Ryan Iannelli was a pilot in the marines. His father says officials told him First Lt. Iannelli’s helicopter crashed in Southern Afghanistan.

“He was not shot down,” said Iannelli’s father. “It was on take off. There was either a malfunction or gust of wind or something. It’s under investigation.”

Iannelli’s patriotic spirit was ingrained at an early age. His grandfather is a World War II veteran. Shortly after the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001, Iannelli told his family he felt compelled to one day serve his country. Upon graduating at the top of his class from Kingsway Regional High School in 2002, his father says, Iannelli attended Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa Oklahoma, where he majored in business.

“He was a determined guy,” said his father. “He was only 5’8, about 160 pounds, but whatever he put his mind to, he accomplished it.”

Serving his country wasn’t the only thing he believed in serving. According to his family, Ryan often quoted scriptures from the Bible.

“His favorite thing to say was, ‘I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me,’” said Ken Iannelli. “When you have the faith that he had and that we have, death is actually a rejoicing to life. Even though we mourn, we rejoice.”

Reported by Jericka Duncan, CBS3