North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Focused, determined and dedicated: that's how friends and neighbors describe Nicolas Checque, the Navy SEAL killed during the successful rescue of an American doctor kidnapped in Afghanistan.
They say when the petty officer first class died, Checque was living the life he had always wanted. As far back as middle school, he knew he wanted to join the Navy's special forces.
"He loved it," said high school classmate Anthony Troisi. "In seventh grade, eighth grade, he knew what he wanted to do with his life: he wanted to be a Navy SEAL."
He was driven and goal-oriented, according to Stephanie Stewart, who usually rode the school bus with Checque to Norwin High School. "He knew exactly how to get where he wanted," she said.
Growing up here, Checque kept a short, military-style haircut, and even got Lasik eye surgery -- mainly to make sure there was nothing that could disqualify him from becoming a commando, according to Troisi.
In addition to his classes, the young man focused on wrestling and fitness, which friends say he saw as a way to prepare for the physically demanding role Checque was striving for.
"He was a team leader," said Michael Choby, who graduated a year ahead. "Not a superstar, but a leader in the room -- and at matches, too."
At the end of an exhausting wrestling practice, Checque was still ready to swim laps, Choby said -- another type of training that could help lead to a career as a commando.
Troisi described him as mentally tough, but reserved, at matches.
"He would beat a guy up -- and then walk off like it was just his job," he said.
Checque was a four-year honors student, said his physics teacher Doug Knipple, but rather than go to college, he chose to go straight into the Navy.
At Norwin on Tuesday morning, students, faculty and staff observed a moment of silence. Choby, who now works as the assistant principal at the school they both attended, says Checque's accomplishments can serve as an example for today's students.
"He didn't just have a dream, and wish it happened, or hope it happened. He worked, worked, worked-- and he achieved amazing things for himself," he said.
In addition to winning a coveted slot in the elite special warfare unit known as SEAL Team Six, Checque, 28, received a number of commendations, including the Bronze Star.
But when the Monroeville resident visited home in recent years, he did not talk about his assignments or his missions, said former neighbor Kim Victor.
After al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American commandos in Pakistan, old high school friends joked about how Checque was probably involved. Now, Troisi said, they know the truth: Checque actually did serve in the very unit from which the soldiers on that high-stakes mission were selected. (The Pentagon has not disclosed whether Checque was on the bin Laden mission)
The International Security Assistance Force said Taliban insurgents kidnapped the rescued U.S. doctor. Two local officials identified the kidnappers as smugglers.
"He died doing what he loved," former neighbor Kim Victor said of Checque. "Not that that makes it any easier."
Checque's remains were returned to U.S. soil at Dover Air Force Base on Monday, as officials ranging from President Barack Obama to the rescued doctor's employer thanked him for his sacrifice.
"He gave his life for all of us," said Josh Behun, another Pennsylvania friend of Cheque's from school. "Protecting freedom, and standing up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves -- as he always had."
CNN's Adam S. Levine contributed to this report.