Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr., Morgantown, W.Va.

Sgt. Gene Vance Jr. led what friends say were distinctly different lives.

There was the smiling, devoted cyclist and perennial college student who lived on a quiet street with his new wife, Lisa. And there was the special forces soldier who spoke Farsi and disappeared frequently for military missions with few explanations.

"We didn't really know that part of his life," Ed Evans said Monday of his longtime friend.

"There were two Genes," he said, fighting a lump in his throat. "And we've lost both of them."

Vance, a 10-year member of the West Virginia National Guard, died Sunday when suspected Al Qaeda or Taliban forces engaged U.S. forces in a small arms battle. He was the first member of the state National Guard to die on active duty since World War II.

There were no other reports of coalition casualties in the firefight, said Capt. Steven O'Connor, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram air base north of Kabul. It was unclear whether the opposing side had casualties.

"He was one straight-shooting guy," said Evans, who had known Vance for more than a decade. "When he looked you in the eye and told you something, it was the gospel. ... But there was a part of him you just couldn't read, too."

Vance, 38, had lived in Morgantown since at least the summer of 1991, when he enrolled at West Virginia University. He took classes off and on through 1995, including stints at New Mexico State and Davis & Elkins College in Elkins.

He had accumulated enough hours to be considered a senior when he enrolled at WVU for the fall 2001 semester, a school spokeswoman said. he withdrew after Sept. 11.

Vance, who married last fall, was put on alert with the rest of his 19th Special Forces Unit. He canceled his honeymoon, and in December, shipped out with his unit to Fort Campbell, Ky., before heading overseas.

"For the first time in his military career, he would have preferred not to go," said Bruce Summers, owner of Whitetail Cycle & Fitness, a bicycle and kayak outfitters shop in Morgantown where Vance worked.

"He had just gotten married. He was entering a new life," Summers said. "He had to put his life on hold."

Outside the modest ranch-style house that Vance and his wife shared, an American flag flew. A tattered yellow ribbon was tied to the handle of the front door.

Lisa Vance had been out of town Sunday night when told of her husband's death. When she arrived at home, she glanced at a dozen waiting reporters and photographers, then ran sobbing into the house.

Guard spokesmen had little information about Vance's teen-age daughter, Amber, who is from his first marriage. Neighbors said she did not live with the couple.

An Army honor guard received Vance's flag-draped coffin at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Monday. It wasn't immediately clear when he would be flown to the United States.

Gov. Bob Wise ordered all state flags to be flown at half staff until after the burial.

"Sergeant Vance's selflessness and supreme sacrifice for his country in defense of our liberty on a battlefield half a world away brings honor to his family, the people of the state of West Virginia and his country," Wise said.