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Fallen but not forgotten: 'Under investigation'

By John Rutherford, NBC News Producer, Washington

Among six U.S. casualties last week in Iraq was Army Spc. Melvin Henley, 26, of Jackson, Miss., who died of a single gunshot wound to his head, according to an Army spokesman. The spokesman would not say if the gunshot was self-inflicted. "It is under investigation," he told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

But Henley's family told the newspaper he had been having trouble coping with a second tour in Iraq. "We know he was under stress," his uncle said. And Henley's wife said he had missed her terribly. "He hated to be away," she said. "We were everything to each other."

"Editor & Publisher" Journal reports military suicides are a growing problem. "Some 130 are now officially listed as suicides in Iraq, but dozens more are being probed," E & P said, "and then there are the suicides in Afghanistan, and hundreds or thousands more back in the U.S." The journal said military suicides are usually announced as "non-combat" deaths that are "under investigation."

1. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alejandro Ayala, 26, of Riverside, Calif., was based in Kuwait, where he spent a day in August with his brother, Cesar, a Marine corporal returning home from Iraq. At day's end, Cesar said, according to pe.com, "We're not saying goodbye, just 'see you later' because we'll see each other back in the states." But it was their final goodbye. Ayala was killed Nov. 18 in a vehicle accident. He leaves his widow, Megan, and children, Alexandra, 4, and Matthew, 2.

The following three members of the 2nd Infantry Division were killed Nov. 18 by a suicide bomber in Baquabah, Iraq:

2. Army Pfc. Marius Ferrero, 23, of Miami came home on leave from Iraq earlier this month after his grandfather died. "He wanted us to give him a Thanksgiving dinner, and it seemed like it was a farewell," his mother told the Miami Herald. "Sometimes you have a feeling." Four days after he left, Ferrero was dead. "They were handing out some toys for the kids over there," his mother told NBC6, "and then this guy came over with a bomb jacket on, and he exploded himself."

3. Army Cpl. Jason Lee, 26, of Fruitport, Mich., was remembered as mischievous and a "free spirit" in high school. He joined the Army in 2004. "I don't have a problem with you joining the military," his father told Lee, according to the Grand Rapids Press. "But why the airborne, the infantry?" Lee answered, "I am big. I am strong. It's my calling, Dad. If it's not me, who else is it going to be?" Lee is survived by his widow, Lisa, whom he married a year ago.

4. Army Cpl. Christopher Nelson, 22, of Rochester, Wash., was always drawn to children, having grown up with seven brothers and sisters, so his family was not surprised he was handing out toys to Iraqi youngsters when he died. "He would ignore grown-ups and play with his little brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews," a relative told the Olympian newspaper. "Just a good-hearted guy." Nelson is survived by his 20-year-old widow, Angela.

5. Army Sgt. Alfred Paredez Jr., 32, of Las Vegas, died Nov. 20 in eastern Baghdad of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. The bomb, known as an explosive-formed penetrator, also killed an Iraqi interpreter and wounded three other U.S. soldiers. "The patrol was returning to base after conducting an escort mission at the time of the attack," a statement from the Army said. Paredez was a member of the 1st Cavalry Division.

6. Army Spc. Melvin Henley, 26, of Jackson, Miss., was among the top 10 students in his 1999 high school graduating class. He joined the Army at age 17 and met his wife, Amber, just before deploying in 2003 on his first tour in Iraq. "We clicked really well, like crazy," she told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I knew I couldn't be without him." Henley, a helicopter mechanic with the 3rd Infantry Division, died Nov. 21 at Camp Striker in Baghdad of injuries suffered in a non-combat incident.

7. Army Staff Sgt. Jonathon Martin, 33, of Bellevue, Ohio, died Nov. 22 in Regensburg, Germany, of wounds suffered Nov. 9 in a roadside bombing in Jisr Naft, Iraq. Martin, with the 101st Airborne Division, was on his third tour in Iraq. He is survived by his widow, Rebecca, and children, Allura, Trenton, and Alaina. Hundreds of people turned out last Sunday for a benefit lunch in Bellevue to raise money for his family. They paid $10 apiece, and many threw in a few extra dollars.

Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.