Friends and family of retired Col. Virgil Thomas "Tom" Deal Jr. paid their respects Friday at the first of two memorials planned for the decorated Army doctor.
Deal, 63, was killed Sunday when his plane crashed south of Fayetteville Regional Airport.
No one else was on board, officials said, and the cause of the crash remains under investigation.
Deal was remembered as a humble man who had accomplished great things during his 31-year Army career.
He was well-known throughout the military, especially within the special operations and medical communities.
Col. Peter Benson, who spoke during the ceremony, said Deal made a tremendous impact on both communities.
The man known as "the sensei" was "a leader, mentor and friend" to many, Benson said.
More than 200 people, including about a dozen high-ranking military officials that included the commanders of Army Northern Region Medical Command and Joint Special Operations Command, attended the nearly hour-long ceremony at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville.
Deal is survived by his wife of 42 years, Ida; his children, Wesley Deal and Susanne Glass; a brother; and several granddaughters.
Michael Deal, the brother, called Deal his hero.
Hunter Glass, Deal's son-in-law, asked those in attendance to remember Deal by doing their jobs the best they could.
"It's just not right that he's gone," Glass said. "We lost a lot. Our world came to an end, a large portion of it, on Sunday."
Deal served multiple tours at Fort Bragg, including leading the 28th Combat Support Hospital to Haiti in 2010, and was the first Army doctor to serve as command surgeon for the top three special operations commands - Army Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg and Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
He also commanded Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington , and Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Most recently, Deal served as acting chief of surgery at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center.
Elizabeth Goolsby, director of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, described Deal as a "gentle giant."
"He was a veteran who wanted to continue to serve his fellow veterans," she said.
Dr. Bruce Bolling, who served under Deal at the VA, said Deal was the best surgeon leader he ever met.
Bolling said he looked into Deal when he heard that Deal would be his boss at the VA.
After asking a retired colonel who had worked at Womack Army Medical Center who Deal was, he said he received a simple response in the form of a text message.
"They say, 'He is the best,' " Bolling said the message read.
A second memorial for Deal is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Helen Street Church of Christ in Fayetteville.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to Helen Street Church of Christ at 500 Helen St., Fayetteville NC 28303 for "Vimba Vana - Tom Deal." Donations also can be made to the local Fisher House.
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