William Gerardino would rather chat with a Marine Corps "grunt" than converse with a general, and the pious patriotism of many politicians leaves him cold.

William Gerardino would rather chat with a Marine Corps "grunt" than converse with a general, and the pious patriotism of many politicians leaves him cold.

But the genuine love of country he observes as he crisscrosses the United States warms his heart -- and makes his finger itch.

His shutter finger.

The Grove City photojournalist loves snapping photos in small towns of people who display their pride and patriotism every day.

"I call them grassroots people," Gerardino said.

And that's what he's calling the ambitious series of a dozen books of photography he's self-publishing: "Grassroots USA." The first volume has already been printed and he's putting the finishing touches on the second, although he finds it hard to know when to pause between his journeys gathering material.

"I'm still traveling," Gerardino said last week.

The Grove City Library is currently displaying some of Gerardino's works.

Gerardino, who will be 76 in April, was born in New York City and grew up in Patchogue on Long Island during World War II. When he turned 17, and with his mother's permission, Gerardino was one of 10 young men from his high school to join the Marine Corps.

"Six months later I was sitting in Korea," Gerardino recalled.

He spent a total of 11 months in combat, but still found time to do some writing and to begin taking photographs with some of the high-quality equipment that was readily and cheaply available to those serving in the conflict.

Gerardino stayed in the Marines for the next 16 years.

"They were good years," he said.

Gerardino "bummed around" when he got out of the service, selling sewing machines here and driving a cab there. He traveled from Maine to Miami, and it was in Florida that a regular fare, a professor of journalism at Broward Community College, persuaded Gerardino to use his G.I. Bill benefits to complete the college degree he'd begun while on active duty. Gerardino landed an internship with the Associated Press and for a time worked with famous photojournalist David Douglas Duncan.

Gerardino began taking pictures and writing stories with patriotic themes, focusing on average citizens in their quiet ways showing how much their country meant to them. That, he said, served as the early groundwork for the "Grassroots USA" series.

Gerardino met his wife of 38 years in Florida. After their marriage, he opened a photography studio on Fort Lauderdale Beach, but they came to her native Ohio after the birth of their first child, a daughter. He initially opened a studio in Norwood and did mostly commercial photography, but later spent five years as editor of an Ohio Veterans of Foreign Wars publication that at the time had a circulation of 240,000.

Gerardino and his wife, Virginia, moved to Grove City six years ago.

What inspired William Gerardino, in part, to begin taking the pictures that are included in the first "Grassroots USA" was losing so many old Marine friends in recent years.

"I got to the point I couldn't stand to hear the sound of 'Taps,' " he said.

In the main, though, Gerardino wants the shots of people participating in small-town parades, of boarded-up buildings and veterans' funerals and church steeples to send a message.

"They make a statement that there are people in this country who love their country, work hard every day, do the best they can, but this last eight or nine years haven't been happy ones, and they said so," Gerardino explained.

For the first volume in the series, Gerardino went back and forth between East Coast and West Coast twice, chatting to people in coffee houses, on street corners, in taxicabs. He made stops in Las Vegas and Utah, in West Virginia and Michigan and Indiana and Georgia and North Carolina and probably several other states.

"I never counted them, really," he said.

And he's counting on continuing to derive a great deal of joy from taking his photographs and putting them in books.

"It's become a mission, sort of," Gerardino said. "My wife said that to me. It's like I got hooked."