Chief Warrant Officer 2 Edward Duane Cantrell, 36, died March 6 when he rushed back into his burning home in Hope Mills to try to rescue his daughters, 6-year-old Isabella and 4-year-old Natalia.
The only survivor of the fire, which authorities said was accidental, was his wife and the girls' mother, Louise Cantrell, 37.
Edward Cantrell is also survived by a 13-year-old son from a previous marriage, Stephen Kenneth Cantrell, who lives in Cumberland County with his mother.
The Hope Mills community is rallying around Louise Cantrell in a show of support. The Club Hellas restaurant plans to host a fundraising barbecue on March 24 that will feature raffle drawings.
"When my friend told me about what happened, I was, like, 'Wow.' My eyes started watering," restaurant owner Louis Frangos said Tuesday.
"I think it's hit everybody in the community hard," Frangos said. "I mean, what if it were me?"
He said his heart goes out to Louise Cantrell.
“One day, she has a family, going out to eat. The next day, she’s sitting there, (thinking) ‘What do I do?'"
“You couldn’t describe how it felt. You were just shocked for the whole family," said Michelle Muffett, who works at Sammio's restaurant.
Muffett said she remembers the young girls eating at Sammio's.
"They were adorable," she said. "They would talk about each other all the time. They would tell us about the other girl if she wasn't here, or if they were together, they'd play together."
Visitation will be held 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, with the funeral at 1 p.m. Thursday at JFK Memorial Chapel on Fort Bragg.
The three will be buried together in Arlington National Cemetery next Monday.
Edward Cantrell, a recipient of four Bronze Star medals and a Purple Heart, served with the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg. He recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.