JERSEY SHORE, Pa. - Most soldiers from this small borough in Pennsylvania's heartland - an oddly named town with only three traffic lights - serve their tours nameless and faceless to all but those closest to them.

It's been that way through two world wars. Korea. Vietnam.

Not so with Sgt. Tad Myers and the war in Iraq.

Twice in less than a month the 23-year-old medic with the Army's 82d Airborne Division has found himself an emblem of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, as news photographs of him in fatigues, rifle at the ready, were distributed around the world by Getty Images. Once in August, and again just this week.

His mother said he probably isn't aware of his snapshot symbolism as he patrols the streets of Baghdad. His second tour in Iraq is to end in November.

"I know he is over there, but with these photos, with him and a gun, well it really hits home that he is in harm's way," said Christina Myers, trying her best to hold back tears. "You know what's possible."

While photos of Myers have appeared in newspapers from Newsday to the Washington Post to The Inquirer, they went mostly unnoticed by the 4,500 residents of Jersey Shore - this Lycoming County town on the banks of the Susquehanna River.

Stores here, it seems, only carry the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, which didn't run either of the pictures.

Even Myers' mother had no idea until she received a copy of an August Washington Post in the mail from her congressman. It showed Myers with an automatic rifle and a heavy backpack, his face partially turned to the camera.

So it has come as a surprise to many here that one of their own has become a familiar image to so many across the nation.

Nonetheless, like in so many other corners of the United States, folks in Jersey Shore have strong opinions about the war and whether soldiers such as Myers should still be deployed.

Yesterday, hours before President Bush was to address the nation about the war and a partial troop withdrawal, Amber Hamilton was trying to make sense of why troops are still over there.

"I can understand a couple months, but this just doesn't make sense," said Hamilton, a waitress at Santino's Italian Cuisine. "It's a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of lives."

Even at haunts reserved for veterans, opinions are pointed.

As Dana Glenn finished a lunchtime mug of beer at the George W. Pepperman American Legion Post, he predicted history would remember Bush as the worst president ever.

"This is Bush's war," said Glenn, who served in the Air Force in the late 1950s. "Look how many kids are dying over there. And for what?"

Two blocks away at the Billy O. Brandt VFW Post No. 5859, two World War II veterans talked about how today's soldiers don't have a clear mission.

"We knew what we were fighting for," said one as he cracked saltines into a bowl of chili.

Myers' family and friends described him as a dedicated soldier who hopes to join the New York City Fire Department after the service.

Myers' grandfather David Hardy said the soldier is single-minded and goal-oriented. When Myers was 5 years old and wanted to hone his baseball skills, the two of them were still tossing the ball in the backyard in December.

"He just wouldn't want to stop," Hardy said.

The town is named in recognition of two 18th-century settlers who moved into the then-wilderness from Essex County, N.J. Life is still shaped by the forested hills.

Tomorrow, the local volunteer fire brigade - the Independent House Company - will host its Annual Gun Party and raffle off 15 rifles and shotguns. Myers is a company member, and there he is seen as a go-getter, said Chief Mike Kilpatrick.

Myers joined the company at the age of 14, and soon began talking about someday becoming a full-time firefighter in New York City, Kilpatrick said.

He also had a habit of keeping his helmet spotless, Kilpatrick added.

"He took a lot of pride in everything," Kilpatrick said.

Or, as Myers' younger sister Kiley put it, "he's a neat freak" who likes everything in its place.

As for the news clippings, Myers' mother said she would keep them for him for when he returns.

The ink and newsprint images, though, have left Christina Myers conflicted.

She's proud, of course, as any mother would be of her soldier son fighting a war in a faraway land. But the pictures upset her at the same time.

"I don't know what he will think of them," she said. "But he will have a chance to puff out his chest a bit."

Contact staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani at 717-787-5990 or mcattabiani@phillynews.com.