As the oldest child and grandchild on both sides of his family, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover was a natural born leader, his father, Darin Hoover, said Saturday.
Taylor, 31, identified by the military as Darin T. Hoover, was the oldest American killed in a suicide bombing outside of the Kabul airport on Thursday. Twelve other U.S. service members and more than 110 Afghans also died.
Darin Hoover told NBC News that Taylor Hoover was a “fun-loving, goofy kid” who was always surrounded by friends and family and who cared deeply about his two sisters, who looked up to their big brother. In family photos, Darin Hoover said, his son was always at the center, with his siblings and cousins “flocking” to him.
“He would come into a room and light it up, he’d take it over,” Darin Hoover said. “Family was first with him.”
He was a “very loving, very caring, very giving man.”
Growing up near Salt Lake City, Taylor Hoover was a fan of the outdoors, his father said. He loved to hunt, fish and camp and was particularly fond of spending time with his family at a nearby canyon where they would build camp fires and make s’mores.
“It was a place for him to have a little bit of solitude and for us to be with him,” Darin Hoover said.
Taylor Hoover was 11 years old when the Sept. 11 terrorist attack happened. His father recalled military recruiters later coming into his son’s high school and said that Taylor immediately knew he wanted to join the Marines. “He was dead set on it,” Darin Hoover said.
Taylor Hoover served in the Marines for 11 years and was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he was killed. In addition to his immediate family, he leaves behind a girlfriend.
Darin Hoover said that he recently had conversations with his son about his military career and whether he would stay once his enlistment period was up in about a year. Darin Hoover said his son was torn about what to do next, but had ultimately decided that he should continue.
After his son’s death, Darin Hoover said he heard from some Marines who had served under Taylor. One recalled Taylor Hoover as a leader who never raised his voice and made sure he prepared those coming up behind him for the job.
“He took those responsibilities very seriously — of training the other men he was with and making sure they were trained the way he was trained, and better,” Hoover said.
As the family became more aware of Taylor’s mission and the dangerous situation in Afghanistan, his father said, he started to worry but “never in a million years would I ever have thought that something like this would happen.”
Taylor Hoover had told his family he wanted to be in Afghanistan to help with the evacuation mission. His father said he died “doing what he loved to do.”
“He was serving. He was helping those less fortunate than all of us,” Darin Hoover said. “I know he was right out front leading his men.”
“My boy is a hero,” he continued. “It’s going to be hard to go on without him.”
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.