The vigil for Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis at the Staten Island Great Kills railway station began with an intimate sharing of memories between friends and family.
Friend Bolivar Flores said, "Mike was always that guy who was in front, the leader of the pack."
There was "not a single soul that hated Mike," said Stephen Picca.
Organizers hoped the vigil would attract a couple dozen people. In the end, several hundred showed up. Small children wore T-shirts bearing Ollis' photo and the words "Always in our hearts, Mikey Muscles."
"There was something special about him," said friend Robert Hemsworth. "It took only one time to meet Mike to impact you."
Friends and family said the hero they called Mikey wanted to be a soldier since he was a kid.
Sister Kim Ollis said: "He did everything in the most passionate of ways. He never gave 50 percent. It was always 110 percent."
Neighbors have said Ollis helped clean out his local VFW post after Sandy, sometimes staying overnight as he worked, always with a "golden smile."
Ollis, of New Dorp, died Wednesday in Ghani Province in an attack that involved an improvised explosive device and small arms fire, according to the Pentagon.
Exact details have not been released, though military officials told Ollis' parents his final actions saved lives.
Ollis joined the Army in August 2006 after graduating from high school, and previously did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I don't understand it," said Danielle Cundarn, a former teacher. "But I will make sure no one ever forgets Michael Ollis. Never, ever forgets Michael Ollis."
Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York