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Fallen but not forgotten: Closing in on 4,000 casualties

By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington

As the death toll in Iraq closes in on 4,000 American casualties, there is disagreement over how many U.S. troops have actually died in the war. Officially, as of Feb. 13, the Pentagon said 3,958 service members had been killed in Iraq. But icasualties.org, which tracks war deaths, says the following five soldiers died from injuries suffered in Iraq but are not included in the Pentagon's total:

1. Army Sgt. John "Bill" Smith of Gaffney, S.C., injured his shoulder in December 2004 when a car bomb exploded near his Humvee in Iraq. Smith had surgery on his shoulder in September 2005, but his family said complications set in afterward with his blood pressure medication. Smith went into cardiac arrest and died Oct. 1, 2005. He leaves a wife and two children.

2. Army Spc. Raymond Salerno III of Land O'Lakes, Minn., suffered third-degree burns on his hands, arm, and leg when his Bradley fighting vehicle hit a roadside bomb north of Baghdad in October 2005. He was recovering and went for observation to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where his heart failed and he died unexpectedly on July 16, 2006, at age 27.

3. Army Staff Sgt. Jack Richards, originally from Broken Arrow, Okla., nearly lost a leg in 2004 when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Iraq. He underwent several surgeries on his leg and was on a machine that administered morphine as part of his treatment. He was found dead at his Fort Bragg, N.C., home on July 29, 2007, at the age of 39.

4. Army Sgt. Gerald Cassidy of Indiana suffered brain injuries in a roadside bombing in Iraq in June 2006. He arrived at Fort Knox, Ky., with blinding headaches, memory and hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was found dead in his room on Sept. 21, 2007. He may have been unconscious for days before his body was discovered.

5. Army Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Wasielewski died Oct. 8, 2007, at his home in Ladysmith, Wis., where he was recovering from severe back injuries suffered in a roadside bombing in Ramadi, Iraq, in May 2007. Wasielewski, 50, had undergone surgery and was treated for several months at military hospitals before being discharged a month before he died.

I asked the Pentagon for an explanation of why these five soldiers are not included in the official count of Iraq war deaths. I received a reply from LtC. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon press officer.

"This has apparently been addressed in the past," he wrote. "The Army has reviewed the deaths of these soldiers and determined that they did not die as the result of wounds suffered supporting OIF [Iraq] or OEF [Afghanistan]."

Visit Field Notes for an update on Boris and Mama, the two stray Iraqi dogs adopted by Sgt. Peter Neesley. After Neesley's death, his family was trying to bring Boris and Mama to America.

Click here to view tributes to the 62 American troops killed this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the following 15 casualties from last week:

1. Navy Chief Petty Officer Michael Koch, 29, of State College, Pa.

2. Navy Chief Petty Officer Nathan Hardy, 29, of Durham, N.H.

3. Army Spc. Christopher West, 26, of Arlington, Texas.

4. Army Sgt. Rafael Alicea Rivera, 30, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

5. Army Staff Sgt. Donald Tabb, 29, of Norcross, Ga.

6. Army Spc. Miguel Baez, 32, of Bonaire, Ga.

7. Army Sgt. John Osmolski, 23, of Eustis, Fla.

8. Army Sgt. Timothy Van Orman, 24, of Port Matilda, Pa.

9. Army Sgt. Bradley Skelton, 40, of Gordonville, Mo.

10. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Luis Souffront, 25, of Miami.

11. Army Pfc. Jack Sweet, 19, of Alexandria Bay, N.Y.

12. Army Spc. Michael Manibog, 31, of Alameda, Calif.

13. Army Sgt. Timothy Martin, 27, of Pixley, Calif.

14. Army Staff Sgt. Jerald Whisenhunt, 32, of Orrick, Mo.

15. Army Sgt. Gary Willett, 34, of Alamogordo, N.M.

Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and also files stories on the military at www.fieldnotes.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories").