They struck the pact in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, not long after insurgents nearly overran their remote outpost, leaving half of their Army unit wounded.

Sean Langevin and Kyle White agreed that if anything happened to one of them, the other would be there for his family. Still, White assured his friend, both would be going home.

But just weeks later, Sean, a 23-year-old paratrooper from Walnut Creek, was one of six Americans killed in a horrific ambush Nov. 9, 2007. White kept his word. He supported the grieving family at the funeral and over the years has remained close with Sean's widow, Jess, who gave birth to a daughter three months after her husband's death.

Sean Langevin, center, with Chuck Bell, left, and Jon Albert In an undated photo in Italy. Walnut Creek native Langevin was one of six Americans killed in
Sean Langevin, center, with Chuck Bell, left, and Jon Albert In an undated photo in Italy. Walnut Creek native Langevin was one of six Americans killed in a bloody Taliban ambush. Six-and-a-half-years later, on May 13, North Carolina resident White will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, in a White House ceremony for his valor that day in saving the lives of the rest of their platoon. (Photo courtesy of the Langevin family)

Now, Jess and Sean's mother, Roxane, will be there for White. On Tuesday, they will be present when the 27-year-old North Carolina resident receives the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, in a White House ceremony for his valor that day in saving the rest of his platoon.

Their lives, forever intertwined, show how bonds forged in the horror of war continue long after troops come home -- or don't.

"I don't think about getting a medal. Instead, I think about the guys who gave their lives," White said. "It's more about them than it is about me, and Sean is at the top of the list. He was my best friend, and I think about him every day."

It's a bittersweet moment for the Langevins. They are proud of how White has made sure that the men who died that day are remembered. But the past few weeks have been hard. As they have read accounts of White's bravery, learning details never made public about the battle that killed Sean, the tears once again flowed.

"This has brought back so many memories that are difficult for us," Jess said.

Their saving grace is a precocious 6-year-old who has the always-smiling personality of the father who never held her. Zoe is the piece of Sean, Jess said, that will always be with them.

She's also the little girl who once during a Gold Star family event at Travis Air Force Base stared wide-eyed at all the uniforms.

"She just looks right up at me and said, 'Mommy, is this where daddy died?' " Jess recalled. "And I just start bawling. But she knows her daddy fought in the Army against bad guys and now is in heaven, watching over her."

A popular soldier

Like a magnet, Sean drew people to him. If anyone resisted his charm, he would relentlessly irritate them until they gave in and agreed to be his friend.

A 2002 Ygnacio Valley High graduate, Sean was an Eagle Scout with an adventurous streak. Family meant so much to him that Roxane officiated his wedding with Jess before he left for the Army, which he saw as the bridge to a law-enforcement career.

Stationed in Vicenza, Italy, with the 2nd battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Sean and Jess had an off-base apartment that became a gathering spot for homesick soldiers who spent down time watching DVDs of television shows.

It was there that Sean grew close with an Iowa native named Jon Albert and a younger, introspective soldier from the Seattle area -- White. Sean even came up with a nickname: the tripod.

The ashes of Sean Langevin in a niche at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Lafayette, Sunday, May 5, 2014. Sean Langevin was army buddies with Kyle White and
The ashes of Sean Langevin in a niche at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Lafayette, Sunday, May 5, 2014. Sean Langevin was army buddies with Kyle White and they served together in Afghanistan. In Nov. 9, 2007, Walnut Creek native Langevin was one of six Americans killed in a bloody Taliban ambush. Six-and-a-half-years later, on May 13, North Carolina resident White will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, in a White House ceremony for his valor that day in saving the lives of the rest of their platoon. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

"That was just goofy Sean," White said. "He was always talking about us being best friends, and if one of us was getting on the other guys' nerves, he would bring up the tripod. He would say, 'You know, we can't have that because a tripod needs all three legs to stand.' "

Once in Afghanistan, their unit was stationed at a small combat outpost called the Ranch House, situated on a ridgeline overlooking the village of Aranas in the country's northeastern mountains. On Aug. 22, 2007, the outpost was attacked by an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters, who were driven back only when the troops called in airstrikes on their own position.

Jeddah Deloria was one of 11 soldiers wounded after a rocket collapsed a building on top of him. It was Sean, working a light machine gun nearby, who kept the enemy from entering.

"He was a big part of why I'm still here," said Deloria, who now works for Oracle.

Suffering a minor shrapnel wound, Sean later told Jess that all he could think of during the firefight was getting home to her and their unborn daughter, whom they already had named Zoe.

The outpost was abandoned. But in early November, their platoon was ordered to return to Aranas for a meeting requested by village elders. Everyone was worried, and Sean called Jess and his parents with a request.

"He said, 'We're doing something dangerous, and I need you to pray for me. I'll call you later,' " Jess said. "But he never called me back. That was the last time we talked."

Heroism amid chaos

The knock on the door was just like in the movies, Jess said. She called his parents, Roxane and Drew, who were in Oregon where Sean's younger brother, Scott, played football at Lewis & Clark College.

The following days were a blur. However, one person stood out: White, who was among the three soldiers who were given permission to travel from Afghanistan for the funeral.

"We were so grateful that he was there, but you could tell that he was hurting," Roxane said. "Our family felt so badly for him. To be just 20 years old and experience what he had gone through. But we didn't want to ask too many questions because we could tell that he wasn't ready."

Recent media reports have given them a more complete picture of what happened that day.

Fourteen Americans and a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers had spent the night in the village, bunking at a school they helped build. But as the next day's meeting kept getting delayed, they became suspicious and started back.

The well-planned ambush caught them exposed on a narrow goat trail along a cliff face.

Albert and White remember it started with a single gunshot, a second, then all hell broke loose. Much of the platoon was forced down the steep ravine. A second group, including radio man White, huddled above with little concealment.

Initially knocked unconscious by a rocket blast, White saved one wounded soldier by applying tourniquets and repeatedly risked his life to drag another dying man to shelter. He exposed himself to fire from the unseen enemy again by crawling to their platoon leader, whom White discovered was dead.

"By that point, I had told myself that I was going to die," White said.

Despite being dazed by multiple concussions from explosions, White made radio reports, calling in artillery support and airstrikes. The fighting lasted four hours. However, it would be 20 hours before the evacuation was complete as White was the last man to board a helicopter.

He wouldn't know until hours later what Albert had witnessed.

After being shot in the knee, Albert tumbled down the cliff. At the bottom, he saw Sean, who wasn't moving. Later, when he was helped onto a medevac helicopter, Albert looked over and saw a face-down body. He stared at Sean's name on the back of his body armor.

"It was just so surreal," Albert said. "The cliché really is true: The good ones, the people with the best morals, values and who have children, those are ones who don't come home."

Life without Sean

Drew and Roxane's Walnut Creek home is filled with remembrances of Sean, who after his death was promoted to corporal and received commendations that include two Bronze Stars. Roxane is active in the American Gold Star Mothers. It helps being around families who understand exactly how the grief, even 6 ½ years later, still can come suddenly in waves.

Jess, 31, didn't take off her wedding band for 3 ½ years. After talking with Drew and Roxane, she went to Lake Merritt in Oakland, where Sean had proposed to her on a gondola.

She spread some of his ashes and said: It's time.

"Sean was adamant that if anything ever happened to him, he would want me to move on and be happy," said Jess, who now is in a serious relationship. "But it's just so hard as a wife to do that."

On opposite coasts, Jess and White don't see each other as much as they would like. But she was the first person he invited to the ceremony.

White had learned of the Medal of Honor in a phone call from President Barack Obama. He is the seventh living recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Seven others have been awarded posthumously.

After retiring as a sergeant in 2011, he earned a finance degree and now works as an investment analyst in Charlotte, N.C. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he copes with the symptoms through exercise.

On his right wrist is a silver bracelet. It bears six names.

"All the guys who were killed that day would want the second chance I've been given," he said. "I live every day thinking that I need to make those guys proud."

Like Sean.

Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.

Sgt. Kyle White
What: He will be presented the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony Tuesday. White is the 14th recipient in the post-9/11 era. A Seattle-area native who lives in North Carolina, White, 27, is being honored for heroism during an ambush of his platoon in Afghanistan on Nov. 9, 2007.
Bay Area connection: White's best friend, Cpl. Sean Langevin, 23, of Walnut Creek, was one of six Americans and three Afghan National Army soldiers killed that day. Langevin posthumously was awarded two Bronze Stars, including one with valor, for bravery during the ambush and in a previous firefight.
Other casualties: Also killed were Capt. Matthew Ferrara, of Torrance; Cpl. Lester Roque, of Torrance; Sgt. Jeffery Mersman, of Parker, Kansas; Spc. Joseph Lancour, of Swartz Creek, Michigan; and Marine Sgt. Phillip Bocks, of Troy, Michigan, who attended high school in Truckee.
Medal of Honor: The nation's highest military award is presented to those who distinguish themselves with gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. There have been 3,487 previous recipients, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and 77 are living.
For more information on White, go to http://go.usa.gov/kWnm