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William C. Sager Jr. was just entering a new phase in his young life. He recently bought a house. He was engaged to be married in a few months. He talked with his friends about his desire to start a family.

“He was in the middle of the New York State troopers selection process,” said David Castiglia, who served with Sager in the 107th Airlift Wing of the National Guard in Niagara Falls.

His friends were genuinely happy for Sager, a guy known for always looking out for his buddies.

But any celebration of what appeared to be a bright future for Sager, 28, was put on hold when he suffered a traumatic brain injury May 11, when pushed down a flight of stairs at a bar in Buffalo’s University Heights section.

Instead, Castiglia and other friends almost immediately began organizing a fundraising benefit to assist Sager, who spent nearly three months in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Erie County Medical Center. When Sager died Thursday, organizers decided to go ahead with the benefit on Sunday afternoon, anyway.

It was a chance for friends and family to swap some of their favorite stories about the Silver Creek High School graduate.

“He was the most respectful, just genuine, true person that I’ve ever met,” Castiglia said.

All the proceeds from the event at Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial Post 9249, Veterans of Foreign Wars, on Grand Island will defray funeral costs and benefit Sager’s family.

“As much as it was about raising money, it was more about being a family,” Castiglia said. “Bill would totally do his for any one of us.”

Bar manager Jeffrey J. Basil, 36, accused of pushing Sager down the stairs at Molly’s Pub on Main Street, has been charged with attempted murder and first-degree assault, and may now face more serious charges as a result of Sager’s death.

The case also has prompted growing scrutiny of Buffalo police, because two off-duty officers were working as security guards for the bar at the time of Basil’s alleged attack on Sager.

Sager’s friends said they didn’t want to dwell on the night of the tragic and devastating incident.

“I catch myself thinking about it, but I try not to spend too much time thinking about it,” said Anthony Re, who also served with Sager in the National Guard. “There’s people working on that.”

Sager’s family members attended the event but had indicated to him that they did not want to speak to media, Castiglia said.

Castiglia and Re wore red T-shirts specially made for the benefit that featured a favorite saying of Sager’s: “Doing it live since 1985.” The quote is a reference to television personality Bill O’Reilly’s expletive-laden outburst during a taping of “Inside Edition” from years ago. O’Reilly, in a hot-headed rage, yells several times at an off-camera director that “we’ll do it live.” Sager got a kick out of the video when it went viral on the Internet in 2009, and he began using the phrase “Doing it live since 1985,” a reference to his year of birth, as an inside joke among friends, according to Re.

The quotation was ironic and funny because Sager always was such an even-tempered guy.

“He was level-headed,” said Re, who served for three months in Afghanistan alongside Castiglia and Sager. The three served as crew chiefs overseeing mechanical repairs on C-130 aircraft.

“He was cool under fire,” Castiglia said. “You had to know that your counterpart had your back, and there was no question in my mind that he would have your back if you needed it.”

Guardsman Stephen Tirone said that Sager had all-around good character and strong leadership qualities.

“He would just guide people in the right direction,” added Shaun Pierce, a staff sergeant in the Guard.

The event was a reunion of sorts for many Guardsman, although not the kind any of them would have chosen.

Re described the 107th as a “close-knit group.”

Occasionally, as he talked about Sager, another friend would show up and exchange greetings.

“We shake hands. We hug. We mourn a little,” Re said. “People here are in good spirits, but they come with a heavy heart.”

Friends said they were trying to be as upbeat as they could under the circumstances.

“The next couple of days are going to be tough for the family, between the wake and the funeral,” Tirone said.

Public calling hours will be from 2 to 8 p.m. today in John J. Kaczor Funeral Home, 5453 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg. A private funeral service will be held there Tuesday. A private burial with military honors will follow in Glenwood Cemetery, Silver Creek.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com