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Associated Press
A Navy carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua E. Witsman as a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean E. Brazas sits onboard the plane Saturday at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Rural Indiana communities honor fallen troops

BRAZIL – Two small western Indiana communities less than 50 miles apart are mourning the deaths of hometown military members killed in Afghanistan in the past week.

In Brazil, hundreds of volunteers placed more than 2,000 American flags along the funeral procession route for 27-year-old Spc. Arronn Fields of the Indiana National Guard. In Covington, more than 1,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Covington to honor 23-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Witsman.

Military officials say Fields was killed May 21 in a rocket propelled grenade attack. He was a member of the Indiana National Guard’s 81st Troop Command based in Indianapolis.

He will be buried near the city of Brazil on Tuesday.

On Sunday, volunteers planted 3-by-5 feet flags on both sides of the road to the cemetery.

“I didn’t know the young man but I feel like I needed to be here,” volunteer Jane Douglas told the Tribune-Star.

Another volunteer, Kim Stultz, said her son Marine Cpl. Greg Stultz died two years ago in Afghanistan.

“To see things from the other perspective and to see so much support amazes me,” Stultz told The Brazil Times. “It just goes to show you how the community is behind you. I think this is wonderful.”

Hours later, a crowd gathered near the Fountain County Courthouse square in Covington to honor Witsman. Most held lit candles for the vigil that began with music followed by a Boy Scout troop presenting the U.S. flag and colors.

Afterward, Lacey Weatherly sobbed as she recalled her father’s deployment to Iraq in 2004-05 with the Indiana National Guard, the Journal & Courier reported.

“It just makes me appreciate my dad so much and what he did there,” said Weatherly, who graduated high school in 2007, the same year as Witsman. “I just realize how lucky I am to have him here.”

Witsman’s body arrived Saturday at Dover Air Force Base. The military has yet to release information on the circumstances of Witsman’s death, although family friends said he died Wednesday.

Patty Gritten, who is the Fountain County clerk and a longtime friend of the Witsman family, said she hoped the closeness of the rural community of about 2,600 people will help his family.

“I didn’t see him a lot, but every time he was in town, he would always come into the office and give me a hug,” Gritten told WLFI-TV. “If he thought you were down, he would know how to make you smile. It is a very close-knit community and sometimes that works against us, but in a case like this, it’s working for us.”