By John Rutherford, NBC News producer, Washington
Last week, while Congress debated whether to rein in President Bush's Iraq policy, 15 U.S. soldiers died in the war, bringing the total to 3,793 through Sept. 22. Eight of the 15 were non-combat deaths.
"These deaths [are] often caused by accidents, illness, or in a growing number of cases, suicide," according to editorandpublisher.com. "There has been an epidemic of them in recent days."
What follows is a brief tribute to each of last week's 15 casualties:
1. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Townes, 29, of Las Vegas died Sept. 16 in Balad from an undisclosed illness. He joined the Army in October 1999 as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division in September 2006. "The Nellis community has truly lost one of its own," the Hopper family wrote in legacy.com.
2. Army Spc. Joseph Landry III, 23, of Pensacola, Fla., had to lose 40 pounds to join the Army, so he strapped a 50-pound pack on his back and walked two miles back and forth to work at Taco Bell until he lost the weight. "He was always interested in serving, even as a child," his father told the Pensacola News Journal. Landry was one of three members of the 2nd Infantry Division killed Sept. 18 by a roadside bomb in Muqdadiyah.
3. Army Spc. Nicholas Olson, 22, of Novato, Calif., loved motorcycles, horseback riding, and skiing. He also loved his wife, Nicole, and their one-year-old daughter, Melody. Olson died in the same blast that killed Landry. "It just isn't right," a student at Olson's former high school told the Marin Independent Journal. "I hope the next person who becomes president cleans it up."
4. Army Spc. Donald Valentine III, 21, of Orange Park, Fla., married his wife, Lucia, on Sept. 22 of last year. He wrote her from Iraq about starting a family. "I'm still thinking about what to do after Iraq," he wrote in July, according to the Florida Times-Union. "If we do have a kid, I'm going to reclass to another job." Valentine was the third casualty of the Sept. 18 bombing in Muqdadiyah.
5. Army Spc. Matthew Emerson, 20, of Grandview, Wash., and his colleagues in the 1st Infantry Division often dreamed about where they'd rather be than the dusty streets of Mosul. "Matthew said the same thing every time," his mother told the Yakima Herald-Republic. He'd rather be home in Grandview. "At a barbecue," added his father. Emerson died Sept. 18 when the Humvee in which he was riding rolled over in Mosul.
6. Army Spc. Aaron Walker, 23, of Harker Heights, Texas, deployed to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division in August and was killed by small arms fire in southern Baghdad on Sept. 18. He is survived by his widow, Amber. "Our hearts are broken," his father told the Killeen Daily Herald. "I know things will never be normal again, but we will redefine normal."
7. Army Pfc. Christian Neff, 19, of Lima, Ohio, a member of the 3rd Infantry Division, was killed Sept. 19 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. "He had a calm nature, and his ornery smirk warmed the room," his family said in a statement. Neff enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in 2006. "He didn't have an opportunity to live his life," one of his teachers told the Toledo Blade.
8. Army Sgt. Edmund Jeffers, 23, of Daleville, Ala., was on his second tour in Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division. He wrote an essay about the war in February that was widely distributed online. "Let's stop the political nonsense, let's stop bickering, let's stop all the bad news, and let's stand and fight," he wrote. He died of injuries suffered in a non-combat accident on Sept. 19 in Taqqadum.
9. Army Cpl. Graham McMahon, 22, of Corvallis, Ore., graduated from high school in 2003, joined the Army in 2004, and deployed to Iraq in April. He died Sept. 19 in Balad of an undisclosed illness. McMahon was a combat medic with the 2nd Infantry Division. Of 57 military deaths in the first three weeks of September, he was among 22 of them to die of non-combat causes.
10. Army Pfc. Luigi Marciante Jr., 25, of Elizabeth, N.J., was home on leave last month for the birth of his son, Lorenzo. He returned to the 2nd Infantry Division on Aug. 23 and was killed by a roadside bomb in Maqdadiyah on Sept. 20. His last e-mail to his wife, Stephanie, ended, "I love you steph, always & forever. Give Lorenzo a hug & a kiss and tell him that daddy loves him."
11. Army Spc. John Young, 24, of Savannah, Ga., died Sept. 21 at Camp Stryker, Iraq, of injuries suffered in a vehicle accident. Young enlisted in 2005 and was a member of the 10th Mountain Division. He is survived by his father, mother, and sister, all of Savannah. Nearly 39 percent of military deaths in the first three weeks of September were non-combat in nature, compared with only 18.2 percent for the entire war.
12. Army Capt. (Dr.) Roselle Hoffmaster, 32, of Cleveland died Sept. 20 of injuries from a non-combat incident. She graduated from Smith College in 1998 and from Case Western Medical School in 2004. She had just deployed to Iraq as a surgeon with the 10th Mountain Division. "You couldn't find a more caring or compassionate person," a Smith faculty member told the Boston Globe. Hoffmaster is survived by her husband, Gordon.
13. Army Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lankford, 42, of Scottsboro, Ala., was on his third tour in Iraq, assigned to the 79th Ordinance Battalion. He died Sept. 22 in Baghdad of a heart attack while working out with his men. "Now, all we have are fond memories of him," his mother told the Huntsville Times. "But that's what we're going to cling to." He is survived by his widow, Cheryl, and their 2-year-old son, Jonathan Jr.
14. Army Spc. Joshua Reeves, 26, of Watkinsville, Ga., celebrated the birth of his son, also named Joshua, last Friday. "He got to hear him cry over the phone and said 'Hi' to him," Reeves' wife, Leslie, told the Nashville Tennessean. One day later, on Sept. 22, Reeves, a member of the 1st Infantry Division, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. "It hurts so terribly," his father told the Tennessean. "You just can't know how bad it hurts."
15. Army Spc. David Watson, 29, of Newport, Ark., was the fifth soldier from the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, to die in Iraq in less than a week. A combat medic, he died in Baqubah of injuries suffered in a non-combat accident. His mother saved all of his voicemail messages since he deployed to Iraq in April. "I'll probably never erase them," she told the Jonesboro Sun. Watson is survived by his widow, Lisa, and their two children, Caelan, 8, and Dayton, 4.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.