By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
A final tribute to the U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following eight service members died last week in the two war zones:
1. Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Johnson, 21, liked to jump off waterfalls and tear up his dad's car while growing up in Central Point, Ore. "He was the one who always stirred up trouble in our family," his mother told the Oregonian. He enlisted in 2005 out of high school and was on his second tour in Iraq when he died Dec. 20 in a non-hostile incident in Anbar province. Johnson, with the 1st Marine Logistics Group, leaves his widow, Elizabeth, whom he married in March.
2. Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas Reilly Jr., 19, of London, Ky., was so good at decorating cakes in high school that he considered entering culinary school after his military service. Serving in Iraq with the 3rd Marine Division, he was killed Dec. 21 when a rocket propelled grenade struck his Humvee in Anbar province. His mother was told of his death while at a hospital where her daughter had just given birth. "She is really struggling," a friend told the Times Tribune.
3. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Smith, 28, of Grand Rapids, Mich., was an outdoorsman who loved to golf and hunt and a family man who loved to grill briskets and ribs. "He really lived for his family," his wife, Bobbi Jo, told detnew.com. "He was that kind of guy." He was one of three members of the 4th Infantry Division who were killed Dec. 24 in a vehicle rollover in Baghdad. Smith was on his second tour in Iraq. He also leaves a 15-month-old son, Adler.
4. Army Spc. Stephen Okray, 21, of St. Clair Shores, Mich., was described as a happy-go-lucky kid who loved hunting, fishing, cars, and motorcycles. "He walked in the room and it glowed," his uncle told freep.com. Okray enlisted in 2005 and deployed to Iraq in September with the 4th Infantry Division. He was one of three soldiers killed Christmas Eve when their armored vehicle rolled over in Baghdad. "It was just a tragic ending to a good kid," his uncle said.
5. Army Spc. Stephen Zapasnik, 19, of Broken Arrow, Okla., was scheduled to come home on leave Jan. 15 but died Dec. 24 along with two other members of the 4th Infantry Division when their armored vehicle rolled over in Baghdad. "He said, 'Mom, if I ever don't come back, you know I will always be with you, and I will be with Jesus, and I will be fine,'" his mother told the World. "I know that he's perfectly safe and spending Christmas up there with Jesus."
6. Army Cpl. Charles Gaffney Jr., 42, of Phoenix, Ariz., enlisted in August 2006 and was an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division. He was killed Dec. 24 when his combat outpost in Patkia, Afghanistan, came under enemy rocket attack. Gaffney leaves his widow, Latticia, and their daughters, Cara and Mia, of Caldwell, Idaho. He was an M4-rifle expert whose awards and decorations included the Overseas Service Ribbon and the Combat Infantry Badge.
7. Army Maj. John Pryor, 42, of Moorestown, N.J., was certified in CPR at age 14, joined an ambulance corps at 17, and became an emergency medical technician at 18. He was a surgeon with a forward surgical team in Mosul, Iraq, when he was killed Dec. 25 by a mortar. "John wanted to be on the front lines where he could make a difference," a friend told the Saratogian. Pryor leaves his widow, Carmela Calvo, a pediatrician, and their three children, ages 4, 8, and 10.
8. Navy Master-at-Arms Seaman Apprentice Joshua Seitz, 19, of Sinking Springs, Pa., died Dec. 25 when his patrol boat collided with a barge moored in the harbor of Mina Salman in Bahrain. Two other sailors aboard the 25-foot boat suffered non-life threatening injuries. Seitz's body was given an official farewell by members of the Harbor Patrol unit as it left Dec. 29 for the states. Hundreds of service members attended a Dec. 30 memorial service in Bahrain for Seitz.
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.