Friends and family are mourning the loss of Pfc. Kham Xiong, the St. Paul soldier who was killed in the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas.
A memorial service in his honor this weekend drew hundreds of people, including fellow veterans and dignitaries.
Saturday's memorial service was the first of three days of traditional remembrances for Kham Xiong. He was one of 13 people killed in the attack at Fort Hood. He was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Outside the Legacy Funeral Home in Maplewood, Chayee Lee fought back tears as he remembered his brother-in-law.
"He was a family guy. He loved spending time with his kids, with his siblings and with us. He was a great guy," he said.
Lee helped put together a slideshow of pictures of Xiong for the service. He said the family is still struggling to cope with Xiong's death.
"I try not to think of it too much, but then seeing his picture and seeing my wife -- my wife looks just like Kham too -- it makes it even harder," Lee said.
Xiong, 23, leaves behind a wife and three small children. Lee said Xiong was a good father and husband, and a passionate outdoorsman who loved to go fishing along the St. Croix River.
The traditional Hmong service, which was off limits to the news media, was scheduled to last from early in the morning until almost midnight. A long list of public officials were scheduled to attend and show their respects, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and Hmong Gen. Vang Pao.
The Xiong family has strong ties to the U.S. military. Xiong's brother Nelson is a Marine currently serving in Aghanistan. In the Vietnam War in the 1970s, their father and grandfather fought alongside the CIA against the Viet Cong.
Hmong and American veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces came to the memorial to support the family. Toua Vang and his father were there representing a Hmong veterans association.
“He loved spending time with his kids, with his siblings and with us. He was a great guy.”Chayee Lee, Xiong's brother-in-law
Vang said they were thankful to see so many politicians at the funeral, especially the governor.
"It's really amazing," he said.
Xiong was one of 11 children and came to the U.S. when he was a baby. He grew up in California, then moved to Minnesota with the family about 10 years ago.
At the funeral, it was announced that Xiong will be granted honorary posthumous U.S. citizenship. That news moved veteran William Brownell to tears.
Brownell has known the Xiong family for more than two decades. He said that Kham Xiong had wanted to join the Marine Corps like his brother, but the Corps wouldn't take him.
"He had a family, and that is why he didn't first go into the service," Brownell said. "The Marine Corps wouldn't take him because of him having three children and a wife. Of course, the Army would take him."
Brownell choked up as he recalled how he convinced Xiong to join the Army instead.
The memorial service will continue through Monday afternoon. After that, Xiong will be buried with military honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.