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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tung Nguyen, 38, Tracy; killed as his unit is attacked with small-arms fire in Baghdad

December 31, 2006|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

After spending five months in Iraq, Tung Nguyen called his mother to let her know that he was finally coming home, in December.

"He said he was very happy to go home and would come over to visit me," said his mother, Duc Phan, 61, of Alameda, Calif.

But on Nov. 14, two days after the call, Nguyen was killed when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire in Baghdad. He was 38.

A decorated, 20-year Army veteran, Nguyen was a senior detachment communications sergeant assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

His love for the military began as a youngster in Vietnam.

Sgt. 1st Class Nguyen was always interested in hearing war stories from family members, many of whom were South Vietnamese soldiers and officers who fought communist forces in 1975 during the Vietnam War.

When he was 11, his mother put Nguyen, her second-oldest son, on a rickety boat with his brother and an aunt to seek a better life in America.

While he stayed at a refugee camp in Thailand, he wrote home to his mother to let her know that he had survived the arduous escape, in which they were robbed by Thai pirates. On another occasion, Nguyen had to help load and fire guns to fend them off.

He was 12 when he arrived in California, and lived in Tracy with his American foster parents, Jim and Karen Cracraft.

After he graduated from Tracy High School, he immediately joined the Army.

"I was so afraid for him, but he loved the military," said Phan, who came to the United States in 1996. "He never told me where he went, especially the dangerous places, because he didn't want me to worry."

During his two decades of service, Nguyen rose through the ranks and was honored with numerous awards.

He became a Special Forces soldier in 1992 and earned the coveted Green Beret when he graduated from the course the following year.

In 2003, he was selected to teach at the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg and remained there until he was sent to Iraq this year, his first tour there.

Among his awards were two Meritorious Service Medals, two Army Commendation Medals and four Army Achievement Medals.

He also was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Iraq Campaign Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.

Nguyen loved to shoot guns. When his mother visited him in North Carolina, he would take her to shooting ranges.

"He could do anything," she said. "He never gave up."

Because of a weak right eye from a previous shooting injury, Nguyen learned to aim with his left eye, she said.

In Army competitions, he won the 2006 small-arms championship sniper class competition and the 2006 joint special operations command small-arms championship pistol class competition.

Aside from his military achievements, Nguyen also was proud that he was able to travel and explore the world through his service, from Hawaii to Washington to Germany.

And, in 1996, he sponsored his parents' immigration to the United States, in time to attend his wedding the following year.

"He lived a very fulfilling life and he died doing what he loved," Phan said.

She said that during their last phone conversation, Nguyen "thanked me for letting him go to America."

In addition to his mother, Nguyen is survived by his father, Tuan Nguyen; his wife, Marcia, of Raeford, N.C.; and five brothers.

mai.tran@latimes.com

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