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Small town America's war casualties, heroes

Editor's note: Washington Producer John Rutherford writes a weekly blog on the soldiers and Marines buried at Arlington National Cemetery. There were no public burials this past week, so he is writing instead on a Purple Heart ceremony today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Small-town America is bleeding for the rest of the country.

A disproportionate number of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be from towns most Americans have never heard of, towns like Gladys, Va., Clinton, Utah, and Spring Lake, N.C.

At a ceremony today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 19 soldiers, most of them from similar small towns, were awarded Purple Hearts. We asked some of them why they joined the Army.

"My dad did three tours in Vietnam, my brother was infantry," Sgt. Blayne Sheets, 21, of Berea, Ohio (pop. 18,970), said. "I just thought I'd do my part, too."

For Spc. Evan McQuistun, 24, of Trenton, Fla. (pop. 1,617),  the reason was more practical.

"For a job," he said. "There's not a lot of places to work in Trenton."

Spc. Michael Cameron, 21, of LaGrange, Ga., (pop. 25,998) was attracted by the educational benefits.

"I always liked the FBI, and I noticed that school was always expensive, and by joining the Army, they pay for college and for schooling," he said. (Click here to watch video, learn more about Cameron)

Most soldiers, either from small towns or large cities, probably enlist for similar reasons, so why so many from small-town America?

"There's nothing else to do, sir," Sgt. Sheets said. "We go out and want to have fun. That's all it is."

So the Army's fun?

"I think so, sir. I'm in for life."

Spc. Michael Brown, 24, of Torrington, Conn., (pop. 35,202) said there's not a lot of opportunities in small towns.

"But my decision was to give back to my country," he said. "I felt like I wanted to do something good, and I know I did, and I'm proud of myself for it."

So are we.