PALM DESERT, Calif. - From a very young age, Eric Strzelczyk knew he wanted to take flight. He was making paper airplanes for his preschool mates at 3, and building model airplanes a short time later.
"We nicknamed our old garage Hangar 231 because Eric took it over," Strzelczyk's mother, Rose Marie Rae said. "He had planes hanging from the ceiling. It really did look like a hangar."
That passion would take Eric from his Indio home to the air force. Strzelczyk's mother will never forget the day she dropped him off at boot camp.
"I drove all the way home hoping that I gave him - as the mom and parents - what we could to help get him through boot camp because boot camp's always so tough," Rae said. "I just was praying that we gave him the tools that he needed to become a man."
Strzelczyk thrived during his six years (2003-2009) active duty in the Air Force as a crew chief on F-15 fighter jets.
He was an Air Force reservist until his death on May 19th of this year when his motorcycle was struck by a hit and run driver who has still not been found.
Strzelczyk's mother has not been angry at the accident - or the driver who has not come forward - and does not see her son as a victim. She sees a young man who lived life on earth to the fullest - embodying what she called the Top Gun lifestyle - on his way to a better place.
"I just knew that Eric was doing what he loved to do and that if he did go, I knew in my heart that he would go doing exactly what he loved to do, and he did," Rae said. "I'm thankful for that because he lived every moment of his life. He lived his dream. He lived life large and that's what made him happy."
Strzelczyk was attending flight school to become a commercial pilot. He also had a great love of music. Strzelczyk played the guitar, bass, drums, and the mandolin. He was in several bands, and he recorded a CD of original music.
A celebration of Eric Strzelczyk's life will take place Saturday, June 1st at the Center for Spiritual Living in Palm Desert. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to Lake Elsinore Soaring Club, P.O. Box 317 Wildomar, CA 92595. Strzelczyk was a member of the club. Donations will go to honor the Wounded Warriors.