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Survived Iraq, murdered at home

NBC’s Dawn Fratangelo tells the tragic story of Marine Lance Cpl. Sok Khak Ung, awarded the Purple Heart and later shot to death not in Iraq, but in his parent’s backyard at a welcome-home barbecue.
/ Source: NBC News

It’s a unique American story of hope, courage and, ultimately, tragedy and great sorrow. It involves a young American Marine and his sad trip to this city this weekend, to the Presidio National Cemetery. NBC’s Dawn Fratangelo reports.

IN LONG BEACH, there were prayers for a Marine who fought in Iraq — 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Sokki Khak Ung, a Cambodian American who was awarded the Purple Heart. His unit created the diversion away from the hospital in Nasiriyah so Special Forces could rescue Private Jessica Lynch.

Ung was also injured by an explosive device while searching for weapons, but quickly returned to his unit.

Sgt. Graham Hilson served with him: “He was a good guy, great Marine, true leader.”

After all that, Ung was killed not in Iraq, but at home, shot to death on weekend leave during a family barbecue. It was early Sunday morning. Ung was sitting with his family in the backyard, celebrating, when shots came flying over this fence.

‘HEY, DADDY, I’M OK’ Vibol, Ung’s half-brother, said: “I was standing next to him, joking around like normal things brother do and all of a sudden someone shot over the gate.”

Before the ambulance arrived Ung died in his father’s arms: “He said, ‘Hey, Daddy, I’m OK, I’m OK,’ ” said Yoeun Ung as he cried.

It was a heart-wrenching loss because this family did everything to survive. The father escaped the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. His son was born in a Philippine refugee camp. America, they thought, would bring peace.

Police, who Tuesday took a portion of the family’s fence for evidence, only know the gunman had a moustache and wore a hood.

Ung, who became a U.S. citizen in August, joined the military for a college education.

“He go to war with Iraq. He not die there. Why? Why die here, who took him?” said Sok’s father.

Ung was set to be discharged in just 10 days. Instead, he’ll be buried at the Presidio National Cemetery this weekend.