Duke Lacrosse Team Tragedy

On any given day, veterans from all American wars are buried in Arlington National Cemetery; roughly 28 heroes are laid to rest each day. Today one of them has a special connection to the Duke lacrosse team.

Army Sgt. James John Regan was a star student athlete and a widely admired member of the team. After serving double tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Regan, 26, died in combat two weeks ago in Iraq.

Motivated by a deep sense of duty to his country, Regan enlisted in the Army after graduating from Duke in 2003.

"He said, 'If I don't do it, then who will do it?' He recognized it as an option and he couldn't not do it," Regan's fiancee, Mary McHugh, told Newsday. Regan and McHugh were to be married in 2008, after his tour in Iraq. He was killed Friday, Feb. 9, in northern Iraq. He died of wounds suffered when his vehicle was bombed.

If his teammates and friends were surprised by Regan's decision to join the military, it was only because he had so many promising options ahead of him.

"There was a certain level of surprise, especially given the other choices Jimmy had," said Art Chace, information officer for the Duke lacrosse team.

"Jimmy had opportunities to go to law school, to work in financial firms in New York, but he chose to serve his country and to protect the freedom we cherish in the United States."

Even so, his decision to serve and his dedication fit the kind of person his teammates knew and admired. Regan, a native of Manhasset, N.Y., was known as the consummate team player -- smart, selfless and hugely talented -- and one who got the job done without seeking the spotlight.

"He was a young man who always put the team first," said Chace.

"He was very outgoing, very energetic. He was always smiling. And he was great to be around," friend and former teammate Kevin Cassesse told ABC News.

If there was one great example of his contribution to the team, said Chace, it was the Atlantic Coast Championship of 2002. Regan had four goals in a game won by a narrow 14-13 over rival University of Virginia.

"He carried the team on his back that day," said Cassesse, who is currently an assistant coach for the Duke Lacrosse team.

"But that all comes second. … It's the kind of person … that's what you really think about."

For the Duke lacrosse team, which has been mired in a highly publicized sexual assault scandal, Regan's death was a new emotional blow. But it was also an event that put that scandal and much else in perspective.

"You know what this team has been through for 11 months now," Chace told ABC News.

"Within the team [Jimmy's death] was certainly a dose of reality. … This was another notch in terms of going through what is real life. There was also a great sense of pride knowing that Jimmy was a part of something they're a part of."

Those close to the team say morale is high going into the first game of the season next weekend against Dartmouth College.

"This is a very resilient bunch of young men. These guys have been through a trying time over the past 11 months. They were certainly touched by the news, but [there] wasn't a sense of … the world beating us down," said Chace.

Still, the Duke lacrosse community moves forward mindful of Regan's sacrifice and of the example he set.

"He was the ultimate Duke man, the ultimate team player, and a great, great friend," said Cassesse.

"You'd hope someone like that would get to live to 100. And the world would be a better place for it."