by John Rutherford, NBC News producer
On the same day President Bush paid a surprise visit to Iraq and most Americans were enjoying the Labor Day holiday, the Pentagon confirmed the deaths in Iraq of three Army sergeants, bringing the number of American service members killed in the war to 3,731:
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Scheibner, nicknamed "Smoke," enjoyed working on his truck, playing golf, and going on camping trips with his wife, Ann, and 12-year-old son, Tyler. He also enjoyed being a soldier, having spent half of his 40 years in the Army. He was eligible to retire last April but extended for another year when his unit was deployed to Iraq. "He always did the right thing," his sister-in-law, Barb Badolati, told the Muskegon (Mich.) Chronicle. "He was very committed." Scheibner, who also served in the 1991 Gulf War, was about to rotate into a non-combat job in Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division, but on Aug. 30 he was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Al Noor, north of Baghdad. "It's just so awful and senseless," another sister-in-law, Kasi Scheibner, told the Detroit Free Press. "He had so much more to do."
Growing up in Moorhead, Minn., Andrew Nelson was an altar boy and an Eagle Scout. "Just a good-looking, sharp, smart kid," his scoutmaster, Ron Schneider, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. At age 17, Nelson talked his mother into letting him join the Army. "He was the type of young man who when he made up his mind to do something, he was going to do it," a family friend, Todd Taylor, told the Star-Tribune. Over the next 4 1/2 years, Nelson rose to the rank of sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division. He served one tour in Afghanistan and was on his third tour in Iraq. "He wanted to get out and go to college and get a degree in engineering," Taylor told Minnesota Public Radio. But on Aug. 29 Nelson was killed while on a dismounted patrol in Muqdadiyah, north of Baghdad. He was 22 years old.
As a child, Jason Butkus fantasized about being a knight. Each Halloween in West Milford, N.J., he'd dress in a costume of armor. "He wanted to be a knight, and then he thought, 'Well, a soldier is the next best thing,'" his sister, Vanessa, told the Newark Star-Ledger. First, though, was Cub Scouts, making pizzas in "The Pizza Place," and high school wrestling and track. He enlisted in the Army in 1995 and deployed to Iraq in February as a staff sergeant with the 1st Infantry Division. He was killed Aug. 30 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his Humvee in Baghdad. "Our hearts are heavy with grief," his family said in a statement. "He will be deeply missed by his family and by his many friends." Butkus, 34, is survived by his 9-year-old son, Connor, who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with Butkus' former wife, Amanda.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly blog on burials of service members at Arlington National Cemetery.