He didn't talk much about his work in Afghanistan.

A member of the Army's elite Special Forces, Bruce E. Price kept the details of his classified missions to himself. But Price, a Washington native, did make clear his affection for the Afghan people, said his mother, Madalin Price of Palm Coast, Fla.

"He viewed them as people, not as enemies," she said. His parents wouldn't realize the extent of his determination to understand the country where he was fighting until after their son's death.

In the midst of his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, Price, 37, was killed May 15 when Afghan insurgents armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed his unit, the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Special Forces Group, the Defense Department said.

Price, a chief warrant officer from Fayetteville, N.C., who served as assistant detachment commander for his Special Forces team, was patrolling the town of Kajaki, about 60 miles northwest of Kandahar, when his unit came under fire.

Yesterday, Madalin and Herman Price watched as their only son became the newest war casualty laid to rest in the southeast end of Arlington National Cemetery. His metal coffin was placed at the end of a row of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Several graves near his were so new that they had not yet been marked with permanent marble headstones.

Madalin Price remembered her son as someone who always defended those who couldn't defend themselves.

"He would stick up for somebody who was being bullied in school," she said.

Price once took heat for getting into a fight at school -- until it was clear that he was protecting another student.

"That kind of thing is what he did," his mother said.

He devoted himself to understanding and protecting the Afghan people in much the same way, she said.

"That was what he prided himself on more than anything: treating everyone as a human being," Madalin Price said. "Even though he was a soldier, a Green Beret, he felt like, 'They're people like I am.' "

Bruce Price went so far as to read the Koran cover to cover during a recent tour in Afghanistan, his father learned last week from his son's colleagues.

"The way it was put, [he read it] so that he was able to understand what was truth and what was not truth," Herman Price said.

A transient upbringing and far-reaching travels with the Army helped create and reinforce this interest in other cultures, Madalin Price said.

As far back as high school, Price's fascination with cultural diversity was evident. His favorite subject at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School was Chinese, his mother said.

Bruce Price was born in 1966 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His parents lived in the District at the time. His father's military career later led the family to El Paso, the San Francisco Bay area and back to the Washington area -- specifically to Chevy Chase.

Price graduated from high school in 1985 and enlisted in the military the next year. In 1990, Price met his wife, Renate, in Germany and brought her back to the United States, where they had a son, Aidan, who is now 8. The family settled in Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg, where his unit was based.

The loss isn't unusual for Fayetteville, a large military community, said Todd McCabe, 35, a neighbor of the family there.

"We're used to seeing things," he said. "You hear about casualties."

In general, there's a lot of support for the president and the military, McCabe said. "In this community, especially if something like this happens, even if they don't know the individual, people will flock to attend" a memorial service. A ceremony for Price filled a chapel at Fort Bragg last week, Madalin Price said.

As seven soldiers fired three rounds into the warm, heavy air yesterday, Renate Price, 32, looked down at her son standing beside her. She gently placed her arms around his shoulders.

The young boy quietly listened as a bugler, shielded from the sun under a tree, played taps.

Price was awarded the Bronze Star -- his second -- the Silver Star for valor and a Purple Heart posthumously, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Army Special Forces Command.

Aidan Price, 8, standing next to his mother, Renate Price, leans to see his father's coffin at the burial at Arlington.Herman Price, himself a career Army man, is comforted at his son's burial.