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Wisconsin soldier laid to rest
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An honor guard stands near the helmet, boots and rifle of Sgt. First Class Dan Gabrielson, an Army reservist killed in Iraq. He was buried Wednesday in Spooner, Wis. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
A Wisconsin Army reservist was buried Wednesday in his home town of Spooner, Wisconsin. Sgt. First Class Dan Gabrielson died in Iraq on July 9, when his truck was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. His nephew -- also a reservist in the same platoon -- accompanied Gabrielson's remains home to Spooner for the funeral.

Spooner, Wis. — Dan Henry Gabrielson, 40, was remembered as a good man, a great father, and caring husband.

His 20-year-old daughter Vanessa and others spoke to reporters before the service. Vanessa talked about the last time she got word from her father.

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Image Vanessa Gabrielson

"We got an e-mail and it was the 6th of July, and he said that 'we are doing the right thing here, don't let anyone tell you differently, for reasons I can explain when we have more time when we're together,'" she recalled. "Well, he never got a chance to explain it, but we know what he meant. And he believed he was doing the right thing."

Vanessa called her father a "go-to guy" who was always available to everybody.

Brig. Gen. Michael Beasley, whose command includes Gabrielson's reserve unit, called Gabrielson a particularly strong leader and soldier.

"Sergeant Gabrielson, by all accounts, had as his first priority the care and training and preparation and readiness of his soldiers that served under him," said Beasley. "He had a brilliant 22-year career, he was promoted as Sergeant First Class while in country on this last assignment."

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Image His nephew

The night before the funeral, Beasley presented Gabrielson's family with four medals. The Bronze Star and the Army Commendation medal honored Gabrielson for his nearly 23 years of service. The Meritorious Service medal and the Purple Heart were awarded on behalf of President Bush, for injury or death sustained at the hands of the enemy during combat.

Gabrielson was one of about 6,000 soldiers from Gen. Beasley's unit deployed to Iraq.

Beasley says Gabrielson was the first in his command unit to be killed in combat, not only since the start of the war with Iraq, but the only soldier in his command unit to die in combat since World War II.

Deployed in Iraq alongside Gabrielson was his nephew, Spec. Scott Parker. who served in Gabrielson's platoon. At the family's request, Parker accompanied Gabrielson's body home to Spooner. Parker said it was a true honor.

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Image Honor guard

"I spent a lot of time with him prior to the attack. It truly gave me a greater appreciation of a man that, though I loved, I came to respect more, because he never got wound up or excited with what was going on. He gave a calm over everything that we dealt with. And it somehow gave us all a sense of security when he was there," said Parker.

Gabrielson's funeral at Trinity Lutheran church in Spooner drew about 600 people. An overflow crowd of friends, acquaintances and soldiers stood outside in the hot sun and listened by loudspeaker.

The pastor's sermon brought up what he called the unavoidable hard questions.

"Out of so many thousands of soldiers in Iraq, why did this happen to him? Why did this happen to him, to this kind, quiet man, to this good husband, good father, good son, good brother, good uncle, good soldier, good friend? Why?"

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Image Northern Wisconsin Veteran Cemetery

A longtime friend of Gabrielson's, and fellow reservist, Mike Meyer, provided a pragmatic answer to the questions the pastor posed.

"It's the price we pay for freedom, and that's the way he would have wanted. I just hope that the young people realize that our forefathers and others before us, that's what they fought for, that's what we have to fight for," Meyer said.

Gabrielson, 40, is survived by his wife and three children. Gabrielson grew up in Spooner, and lived with his family in nearby Frederic for the past 15 years.

He was buried at the Northern Wisconsin Veteran's Memorial Cemetery, just outside Spooner.

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