Cassie Lohrey enlisted the help of 16 service members to reveal the gender of her baby after the death of her husband

Cassie and Hospital Corpsman 1st class Ryan Lohrey had just celebrated their first month of marriage when tragedy struck. On July 10, Ryan, 30, died in a military plane crash during training in Mississippi.

“[I was] in shock,” Cassie, 34, tells PEOPLE of the moment she first got the news. “We were just getting our life started together. We wanted a family. We had so many plans and they were just left unfinished.”

But Cassie, of Hampstead, North Carolina, experienced some joy in the midst of the tragedy. Just weeks after Ryan’s death, Cassie learned she was pregnant with their first child.

“I’m very excited and happy to have a piece of him left with me for the rest of my life,” she says. “I knew he wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m overwhelmed with joy and grateful.”

As Cassie prepared for motherhood, she chose to honor her husband during their baby’s gender reveal party, vowing to hold the event on Veteran’s Day. She enlisted the help of 16 service members who were friends with Ryan.

Cassie says the number became even more significant when she learned that exactly 16 people died in the plane crash. Getting the Marine and Navy men together wasn’t difficult though, Cassie says.

“I contacted one of them and they did it with no hesitation and no questions asked,” Cassie tells PEOPLE. They said, ‘I’ll take care of it. We’ll get everybody here you need. Anything you want, we’ll do.’ ”

Cassie LohreyCredit: Amie Akers Photography
Cassie (left) and Ryan Lohrey
| Credit: Amie Akers Photography

She adds: “They’ve been very supportive from the beginning. And ever since the accident they’ve been here for us.”

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Photos from the event showed the men standing on each side of Cassie, with a U.S. flag waving behind them.

Before making the big reveal, one of the men began an announcement: “Cassie Lohrey. We do hereby appoint you impregnated by Ryan Lohrey and congratulate you on your soon-to-be new baby…”

Cassie LohreyCredit: Saralyn Johnson Photography
Credit: Saralyn Johnson Photography

Just then, the men let out a flurry of pink sparkles, revealing that Cassie is having a little girl. Cassie says she plans to name her daughter Ryan Jo.

“It was a joyous occasion. Me emotions were all over the place,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was happy, excited and sad because [Ryan] wasn’t there. But more happy than sad because I got a piece of him. A silver lining in this tragic situation.”

A GoFundMe page has been created to help Cassie and her family.