ELLICOTT CITY, Md. - Her parents say Valerie Cappelaere Delaney originally set her sights on the U.S. Naval Academy because of its engineering program, but it was three generations of her family who also paid the ultimate sacrifice that influenced her to serve.
"It was right after 9/11 and my dad was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and during his funeral, we saw in the background the devastation at the Pentagon," recalled Valerie's mother, Doreen Cappelaere, "and that's what Valerie wrote about in her admission's letter to the Naval Academy, and then it became a desire to serve our country."
The graduate from Centennial High School didn't gain acceptance into the academy on her first attempt, but she didn't let that stop her.
Valerie attended a prep school for a year before making her way in.
"She is my benchmark. She is my standard when students come to me and talk about wanting to get into one of the academies, she's the person I think of," said Jennifer McKechnie, the Centennial High guidance counselor who helped her with her application, "Things didn't always go her way, but she was able to take things and then make changes she needed to make and do the right thing, and she always came out trumps."
Later, when the Navy told her she didn't have the eyesight needed to fly, Valerie sought out surgery to improve her vision.
Just two days before her EA-68 Prowler crashed into a field outside of Spokane, she told her parents she'd just finished one of the strongest training exercises of her career.
"That instructor had told her she was one of the best students that he had flown with in a long time. For her to get a compliment like that… you don't get many, she didn't get many like that. It's tough. They're picking at every little detail. They want those pilots to be the best," said her mother.
"And she was extremely frustrated because she was that close to finishing up her training and she only needed a few more flights," added her father, Pat.
Valerie had just married Sean Delaney, a fellow Naval Academy graduate, last year, and they were both stationed at the same base.
She recently wrote her will and her parents say they will honor her wish to bury her, much like her military family before her, at Arlington National Cemetery.