By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
With their diverse backgrounds, they could have been characters in an old World War II novel, but their lives were very real, and so were their deaths.
Michael Washington was the son of a Seattle firefighter. Michael Patton recently married his high school sweetheart back home in Fenton, Mo. Dawid Pietrek was an immigrant from Poland. Layton Crass loved to mimic Jim Carrey growing up in eastern Indiana.
"I couldn't help laughing at the kid," Crass' mother told pal-item.com.
The four members of the 1st Marine Division died instantly when a roadside bomb tore through their Humvee on June 14, the latest casualties of the increasingly bloody conflict in Afghanistan.
"They didn't know what hit 'em," Crass' father said.
They are among 18 American combat deaths so far this month in Afghanistan, compared to 12 in Iraq. Last month, for the first time, the number of coalition soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan exceeded the death toll in Iraq.
"They've increased in an absolute sense, but more significantly, they're now higher than they are in Iraq, and of course that gets everyone's attention," NBC Military Analyst Jack Jacobs said in an interview.
Col. Jacobs said Afghanistan has always taken a back seat to Iraq, and he doesn't see that changing any time soon.
"We don't have enough troops in Afghanistan, there's no doubt about that," he said. "We've never had enough troops there, and I don't think it's going to get any better right away."
He sees the war in Afghanistan dragging on for a long time.
"What it's going to take to change that place is something that we're probably not willing to do, and that is a commitment to a significant number of resources and a lot of money and time," he said.
Meanwhile, a total of 461 Americans have died in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001, according to the Pentagon, including 324 combat casualties.
1. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gerard Reed, 40, of Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
2. Army Pvt. Eugene Kanakaole, 19, of Maui, Hawaii.
3. Marine Sgt. Michael Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash.
4. Marine Lance Cpl. Layton Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind.
5. Marine Pfc. Dawid Pietrek, 24, of Bensenville, Ill.
6. Marine Pfc. Michael Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo.
7. Army Spc. Jason Cox, 21, of Elyria, Ohio.
8. Navy Hospitalman Marc Retmier, 19, of Hemet, Calif.
9. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ross Toles III, 37, of Davison, Mich.
10. Marine Capt. Eric Terhune, 34, of Lexington, Ky.
11. Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Whitacre, 21, of Bryant, Ind.
12. Navy Hospitalman Dustin Burnett, 19, of Fort Mohave, Ariz.
13. Marine Sgt. Matthew Mendoza, 24, of San Antonio, Texas.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.fieldnotes.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories") and at http://john-rutherford.newsvine.com/. The tribute gallery can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22802019/.