WHAT A DAMN unfair world it is when someone so courageous - and so physically and mentally fit to take on an incredibly daunting task that 99.9 percent of us couldn't even perform - gets killed in a faraway land at such a young age, away from the people who love him.

Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Strange, 25, a 2004 graduate of North Catholic High School, was one of the 22 Navy SEALs killed in a helicopter crash in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan Saturday after it was shot down by insurgents.

Three Navy officials went to the family's two-story brick rowhouse on Marsden Street near Decatur in Holmesburg about 9:30 a.m. Saturday to deliver the tragic news.

Strange's mother, Elizabeth "Betsy" Strange, a police officer with the 22nd District in North Philly, told the Navy men that they had the wrong house, her other son, Charles Strange III, 22, said yesterday afternoon, as he stood outside the family home.

"She told them to go away," said Michael's aunt, Maggie O'Brien. "She was distraught."

The men, of course, delivered the horrifying, shocking news.

Since then, Strange's sister Katelyn, 21, hasn't stopped crying. His long-term girlfriend, Breanna Hostetler, with whom he lived in his newly purchased Virginia Beach, Va., home, had her world shattered.

And neighbors of the Strange family have hung U.S. flags outside their homes, all in a sign of pride and unity. The nearby American Legion Post No. 133 lowered its flag to half-staff.

Strange, whose father, Charles Strange Jr., works as a dealer at the SugarHouse Casino, also left behind another sister, Carly, 7.

Michael last visited his family with his girlfriend in June just after his 25th birthday. He was "the strongest person in my family," said a tearful Katelyn.

"He spoiled my daughter," Katelyn said of her baby, Juliana, 9 months. When Michael came home to visit, Katelyn dressed her in a little Navy sailor's dress with a matching bow and shoes.

The siblings grew up in Wissinoming, Charles III said, adding that Michael joined the Navy two months after graduating high school. Michael met his girlfriend when she was also in the Navy. He planned to get out of the Navy in two or three years, then become a registered nurse and move back to Philly, the brother said.

"He was a Philly boy," said O'Brien, who works in the advertising department at Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Daily News. He loved cheesesteaks and the Eagles.

His favorite place was Chink's Steaks on Torresdale Avenue, where he would go to get a cheesesteak and milkshake.

Strange, who had previously been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, "loved what he did," Charles III said. And "he was really funny."

Strange's mother, 46, told the Associated Press: "He wasn't supposed to die this young. He was supposed to be safe. And he told me that and I believed him. I shouldn't have believed him because I know better."

Two U.S. officials said yesterday that the SEALs and other troops had rushed to the mountainous area to help an Army Ranger unit under fire from insurgents. The rescue team had completed the mission, subduing the attackers, and were departing in their Chinook helicopter when the aircraft apparently was hit.

Thirty Americans, including the 22 SEALs, and eight Afghans were killed, making it the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Strange was a member of the tight-knit elite SEAL Team 6. None of the SEALs killed in the crash were part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden in May in Pakistan, but they were part of the same unit.

After he went to Afghanistan in July, Michael emailed to say "he was safe. He was going to come home by Thanksgiving," said Katelyn, breaking down in tears.

O'Brien said the family would have Thanksgiving dinner at her Fishtown house. Strange promised he would be there this time.

In his email to her, O'Brien said he wrote, "Make sure you tell everyone I love them."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.