VILSECK, Germany — Michelle, 2, clung to her tearful mother, Lien Tran, and stared at a sea of faces in the Rose Barracks Chapel on Friday.

Those who congregated were paying their respects to Lien’s husband and Michelle’s father, Staff Sgt. Du Tran, 30, who died in Baqouba, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near his unit during combat operations on June 20.

It’s hard to say if the youngster knew exactly what was going on as her mother kneeled in front of Tran’s combat boots, dog tags, rifle and helmet at the front of the chapel. And she might not fully comprehend yet that her daddy will never come home from the war.

Michelle spent only six months with him.

Du Tran was in Iraq from May 2003 to July 2004 and from January 2006 to February 2007 before he left with Battery C, Fires Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment for his last assignment, in August 2007.

It will be up to her mother, and Tran’s brothers-in-arms, to tell her the story of her father’s life.

Ron Grantham, 41, of Hohenfels, a retired sergeant first class, deployed with Tran on his first tour to Iraq. He remembered Tran as a person who did everything with enthusiasm.

Tran, who was Vietnamese, led a colorful life before he joined the Army. He’d tried to escape from Vietnam four times and was detained in Cambodian prisons before joining family in the States, Grantham said.

Anna Nguyen, 28, a member of Vilseck’s small Vietnamese community, said the Tran family were friendly people who spoke their native language and shared Vietnamese food at their house.

Tran met Lien, a Vietnamese-German, at Giessen and the couple married in Denmark, she said.

The unit’s rear detachment commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Rickard, described Tran as a gifted field artilleryman and leader who accepted the Army’s challenge to perform equally well as an infantryman when needed.

"Tran was also a kind and compassionate man. He loved his family dearly and was extremely proud of his daughter," he said.

Fellow Battery C soldier, 1st Lt. Luke Zeck, 29, of Eureka, Calif. was injured in one of three roadside bombs that hit the unit during the operation in which Tran was killed. Zeck, who’s face is pockmarked with shrapnel wounds from the blast, attended the ceremony after being discharged from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

"Tran was well respected. He volunteered to go to this unit and deploy. He had a way of barking out orders, but people loved him," recalled Zeck, who expects to stay at Vilseck for two weeks and then head back to Iraq.

Fires Squadron Rear Detachment commander Maj. Tiger Bartle said Battery C is deeply affected by the loss of such an admired and great leader.

"His soldiers carried him 900 meters down a trail with a high probability of IEDs in an effort to save his life," he said.

He quoted a Company C soldier, Spc. Julian Garza, who described Tran as "a brother" who "thought the world of his wife and little girl."

"He was always sharing memories of the loves of his life and how he missed them so much. When his little girl would say: ‘Papa’ it would bring tears to his eyes," Garza said.

Tran could make soldiers laugh no matter what problems they faced, he said.

"If anyone wanted a great friend who would never leave your side, he was that person," Garza said. "It hurts me to say goodbye to him. My brother, my friend and my leader."

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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