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Farewell, Sergeant Joe

The burials at Arlington National Cemetery are becoming interconnected.

On May 29, Cpl. Christopher Murphy of Gladys, Va., was buried. He was killed in an ambush on May 12 in Iraq.

A week later, it was Cpl. Joseph Anzack Jr. of Torrance, Calif. He was captured in the same ambush. His body was found floating in the Euphrates River 11 days later.

Today, Staff Sgt. Joseph Weiglein of Audubon, N.J., was laid to rest. He was killed by a roadside bomb on May 29 while searching for two other soldiers captured in that ambush.

Several busloads of Weiglein's friends came down from New Jersey to pay final respects to the man known affectionately back home as "Sergeant Joe."

"He was the boy next door," Donald Borden, Weiglein's high school history teacher, told the Newark Star-Ledger. "Just a great kid."

Weiglein was home on leave in January. He visited Haviland Avenue Elementary School to thank the kids for sending Tastycakes, beef jerky, and Christmas ornaments to his unit in Iraq.

"It was like the kids were greeting a rock star," principal Carleene Slowik told KYW Newsradio.

Weiglein stayed until all their questions were answered. Where do you live in Iraq? What do you do there? What do you eat? Where do you sleep? What's the weather like?

"He was our hero," Slowik told KYW.

When Weiglein died, Audubon went into mourning.

"There's a lot of hugging going on," Slowik told the Star-Ledger. "A lot of sad kids."

To honor Weiglein, American flags were placed on every lawn in Audubon, nearly 3,000 of them. Beside each flag was a paper placard with Weiglein's photo and an inscription: "Our neighbor. Our friend. Our family. Our hero."

Joseph Weiglein is survived by his widow, his parents, his two sisters, and the other 9,041 residents of Audubon. He would have turned 32 on Wednesday.

Photo caption: Children and teachers from Haviland Elementary School stand in silence during the funeral procession of Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Weiglein in Audubon, N.J., on June 6, 2007. (AP Photo/Tim Larsen)

Editor's note: As a special to The Daily Nightly, John is attending every public military burial held at Arlington National Cemetery. A Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service, John is also a 28-year veteran of NBC News.

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