By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
Juan Casiano was smitten with Maria Ortiz from the moment he met her at an Army base in Korea.
"She had a smile that lit up a thousand stars, and that smile brought warmth and joy to everyone she touched," Juan said.
When Maria was transferred back to the States, the two lost touch with each other until he bumped into her five years later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"The first thing she asks me is, 'Are you single?,' and I say, 'Yes,'" Juan said. "We've been together ever since."
Juan and Maria planned to marry as soon as she returned from a tour in Iraq as head nurse of an intensive care ward in Baghdad.
"She was looking forward to getting married," he said. "That's why she was going to the gym as much as she could. She says, ah, 'I'll have a little surprise for you when I get home.'"
On one of Maria's trips to the gym a mortar landed in Baghdad's Green Zone, fatally wounding her on July 10, 2007. She was the first Army nurse killed in combat since the Vietnam War.
"It really hurt me, it broke my heart," Juan said. "We were so close."
Maria was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Juan drives down from Maryland every weekend to sit by her grave and read to her from the books she had with her in Iraq.
"Any weekend I miss I come on the weekdays," he told me on a recent visit to the cemetery.
Juan has invited several hundred of Maria's friends to join him at her grave Thursday afternoon to mark the anniversary of her death with prayers and songs.
"She touched many, many people," he said.
Juan paused and looked out at the rows of headstones in Arlington's fabled Section 60.
"She's at peace now," he said. "She's among her hero friends."
1. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Radamorales, 32, of Naranjito, Puerto Rico.
2. Army Master Sgt. Shawn Simmons, 39, of Ashland, Mass.
3. Army Sgt. James Treber, 24, of Imperial Beach, Calif.
4. Army Spc. Estell Turner, 43, of Sioux Falls, S.D.
5. Army 1st Lt. Daniel Farkas, 42, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
6. Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Woodham, 37, of Rogers, Ark.
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/.