Gregory Rundell, 21, of North St. Paul, was killed early Wednesday while manning a guard tower in Iraq.
21-year-old Rundell was an Army Specialist operating with a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He had been serving in Iraq for about three months when he was killed by small arms fire.
About two dozen family members gathered at the National Guard Armory in East Saint Paul to remember him Thursday night.
They held each other and cried while taking turns speaking at the microphone.
His mother Joanne Richardson read a letter Rundell had written her when he was still in basic training.
"Some must sacrifice their freedom for others to live free. Some must sacrifice their lives for others to live. I train now to stand ready to help those I did not get a chance to do before. I will be able to guard people from harm from others that I did not get a chance to do before. Please do not shed a tear if anything happens and don't worry, I don't want tears of loss but tears of happiness of what I was able to do. It says 'love Private Gregory Rundell'," Joanne Richardson read to those gathered.
Rundell graduated from North St. Paul High School in 2004 and joined the Army in 2005.
Family members said he planned to go to college after the Army and then become a police officer in the Twin Cities. He thought serving in Iraq would make him a better police officer.
His mother told reporters that it broke her heart when her son told her he wanted to join the military. She said she was afraid he might one day be killed.
Greg's older brother Kyle Richardson is a Sargent in the Minnesota National Guard. He recently returned with the Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team. Richardson said he tried to warn his little brother about the dangers he would face in the war.
"I lost a good friend over there and that was hard, and then now to lose a brother. It's...I can't even describe how it feels. There is no feeling for it. All I see is sadness. It sucks. That's the best thing to say for it. It just sucks," Richardson said.
Rundell was known as a talented artist who could draw anything he wanted.
His family stood together at the microphone and remembered his sense of humor.
"His smile, he had the greatest smile and sense of humor and his ability to draw anything and just the willingness to help. He was a good middle child without the middle child syndrome," the family laughed sadly.
His sister Desiree Richardson remembered her brother as a trickster.
"We were just joking that he is the quiet, silent one until he wants to cause trouble. And then he is sneaky, you know, and he gets you and he gets you good. He's got an awesome sense of humor, just happy, a happy kid. And too young," Desiree said.
There will be a wake and funeral once Rundell's body is returned from Iraq. Kyle Richardson plans to escort his brother's body from Washington D.C. to Minnesota.
At least 4,004 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war.
More than 70 people with strong Minnesota ties have died in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.