There is no other way that Nick Maimer, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier who was recently killed in Ukraine, would have preferred to die, according to one of his best friends.
“Going into this he knew there was a high chance he was going to get killed,” Ken Koeberlein, Maimer’s friend of 20 years, told The Daily Beast in an interview on Wednesday. “He said that if he was going to face that, he wanted to die a hero’s death.”
Maimer died in an artillery attack in the eastern city of Bakhmut earlier this week, his family confirmed on Tuesday. Video footage appearing to show the 45-year-old’s body was shared by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, who said his body would be transported back to the U.S.
For many, the retired Green Beret was a hero long before he made the decision to volunteer in the Ukrainian work effort.
“Anytime he saw anybody was having difficulties he would always step up, throughout the entire time that I’ve known him for,” Koeberlein said.
The two friends had met up in Spain shortly before Maimer, who was working in Barcelona as an English teacher at the time, decided to travel to Ukraine in the spring of 2022. Koeberlein said “he had just gone through a tough break-up” and his friend, as always, was there to help.
“He said, ‘You should meet me in Barcelona!’—and we did that for almost a month,” Koeberlein said, adding that he could always count on Maimer to lift his spirits, no matter what he was going through. “He always had a smile on his face and he would always hit me up to see how I was doing, which a lot of people just don’t do.”
That’s not to say Maimer hasn’t had to fight his own demons.
In a podcast interview in December 2020, he said he had a troubled home life growing up. “I was raised by a single mother… and in hindsight I can say her childhood trauma got passed on to me,” he said. Eventually, he said, he learned to cope with “all that internalized pain and anger” and use it as inspiration to help others.
“He had a very difficult childhood,” Koeberlein said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He did some serious hard work to get past what he went through…. not a lot of people have the strength to do that.”
‘Whatever the cost’
Tributes to Maimer have been flooding social media since news of his death first broke.
A friend said in one tribute that when he was having suicidal thoughts, Maimer called him “in the middle of the night and insisted we switch to Zoom so he could look me in the eye.” He said Maimer helped him move when he was going through a divorce, and would take him on motorcycle rides “to get away from it all” when was going through tough times.
Maimer “single handedly brought me out of retirement,” another friend said in a post dedicated to the veteran.
In other tributes, Maimer, who launched a career as producer at one point, was thanked for letting several friends use his recording studio for free. “He wouldn’t let us pay him and would always say… ‘You are doing something to make the world a better place. I believe in what you’re doing,’” one friend recalled in a Facebook post.
The veteran “always stood up to protect and put service before himself,” another friend said in a social media tribute. “If it’s anything we can commemorate, it was his character. To always do whatever is right, at whatever the cost…I can guarantee everyone would agree, he had the biggest heart and all he wanted to do was share it with everyone on earth.”
Maimer’s dedication appears to extend to his military career. The former Green Beret earned an Army Commendation Medal and several Army Achievement Medals, according to NBC. He was reportedly deployed to the Philippines in 2006, after serving in the U.S. Army and the Idaho Army National Guard.
Leading up to his death, Maimer was reportedly working with the nonprofit group AFGFree, where he helped train other volunteers in Ukraine.
Ukrainians fighting Russian aggression only want to “raise a family, enjoy life, have a good quality of life and have the chance for prosperity, a better future for their kids,” he told NBC in a February interview. “They want exactly the same thing. It’s not somebody else, somewhere else. It could just as easily be America.”