By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
The saying "only the good die young" was never truer than over the past week at Arlington National Cemetery, where three of the military's finest were laid to rest with full military honors.
All three were killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A flyover of four F-18s in a missing man formation preceded the burial last Friday of Marine Capt. Garrett Lawton, who died Aug. 4 of wounds suffered in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
Lawton, 31, graduated from West Virginia University in 1999 with dual degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering. He served a combat tour in Iraq as a Marine aviator before his deployment to Afghanistan.
"It seems like everyone always has wonderful things to say about people when they die, even if they're not all true, but it is true for Garrett," his sister Kenna said at his memorial service, according to the Beaufort (S.C.) Gazette. "He was a wonderful man, father, husband, son, brother and Marine."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife Deborah comforted Lawton's widow Trisha and their sons, Ryan, 6, and Caden, 4, at the end of his graveside service.
On Tuesday, Army Master Sgt. Anthony Davis of Triangle, Va., was buried at Arlington. Davis, who loved the Army so much his relatives called him "G.I. Joe," and Marine Capt. Warren Frank were shot and killed Nov. 25 while distributing food to civilians in Baaj, Iraq.
Davis, 43, had earlier arranged for his 18-year-old daughter Diana to send him old soccer balls to distribute to Iraqi children.
"When my dad told me there were kids over there playing soccer with balls that were low quality and some even had holes in them, I knew I had to do something," Diana told insidenova.com.
She made two shipments of about 40 balls each to her father before he died. She hopes to continue the project in his memory.
Diana was among hundreds of mourners - black and white, young and old, military and civilian - who turned out on a bitterly cold morning to bury Davis.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust ... " intoned the Rev. Dr. Luke Torian as people were still arriving at the gravesite. Secretary of the Army Pete Geren consoled Davis' widow and five children at the conclusion of the brief ceremony.
Then on Thursday Army 1st Lt. Thomas Brown, called a "natural born leader" by the men in his infantry platoon, was interred at Arlington.
A horse-drawn caisson carried his casket down York Drive to Arlington's Section 60, where he was buried in grave 8744. A firing party fired off three rounds, a bugler played taps and an Army band played "America the Beautiful" on a cold and rainy morning.
Brown's mother Carol accepted a folded American flag from Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, commanding general of the Military District of Washington.
Brown's only goal as a child in Shelton, Conn., was to become a soldier, and his only goal as a soldier was to lead his men in battle.
"He insisted he go out on every mission with his men," his mother told the Connecticut Post. "He believed in leading from the front, and I always scolded him about it."
Her fears were realized on Sept. 23 when he was killed by small arms fire while leading a foot patrol north of Baghdad. Brown was 26 years old.
Lawton, Davis and Brown are among 531 casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
AP photo of Army Master Sgt. Anthony Davis' widow and son at his Dec. 9 burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
1. Army Capt. Robert Yllescas, 31, of Lincoln, Neb.
2. Army Staff Sgt. Solomon Sam, 31, of Majuro, Marshall Islands.
3. Army Sgt. John Savage, 26, of Weatherford, 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 first tribute gallery can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22802019/ and the second at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27336564.