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GROTON — If the sidewalks along the route of last Monday’s Memorial Day parade didn’t seem to be as crowded as in past years, the likely reason was that there appeared to be more people than ever doing the marching.

It was a gloriously sunny but not over heated New England day as the annual parade kicked off behind Legion Hall and wound its way up Hollis Street to conclude at the Groton Cemetery.

There, keynote speaker Lt. Col. Gregory Grunwald of the 25th Marine Regiment reminded the hundreds gathered at the cemetery about the “can-do spirit” of the American people in general and its fighting men and women in particular.

From the Revolutionary War to the war on terror, said Grunwald, Americans have proven to be a resilient and innovative people.

To illustrate his point, Grunwald reminded listeners that when war was declared against Japan in 1941, the nation was ill prepared, training its soldiers with inadequate equipment and shipping them across the Pacific Ocean to a little known island called Guadalcanal.

On the ‘canal, inexperienced soldiers and Marines hung on by their fingernails as the American and Japanese navies fought for command of the seas. Finally, as the Japanese Navy was forced to retreat, desperately needed supplies came ashore, and America’s first land victory against the Empire of Japan was secured.

Noting Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s observation at the time that his nation had “awoken a sleeping giant,” Grunwald observed that the officer had not referred to America’s size but to its fighting spirit. Within months, the nation proved it by mobilizing and launching the greatest industrial effort in history, which in turn achieved victory.

That “can-do spirit,” said Grunwald, was also evident in the nation’s individual soldiers and in particular Groton native son Marine Sgt. William Woitowicz, who was killed in action last year while fighting in Afghanistan.

“Bill Woitowicz was a shining example of this,” said Grunwald, adding that the Groton leatherneck not only displayed a Marine’s traditional fierceness on the battlefield, but compassion for the local people among whom he fought.

“They died so we can continue to cherish the things they loved: God, country, and family,” concluded Grunwald of Woitowicz and all those Americans who gave their lives in the nation’s conflicts.

It’s a lesson that was not lost on many who watched Monday’s parade or attended the salute to the town’s fallen heroes atop the hill overlooking Groton Cemetery.

“I think people sometimes forget about our history, and having a parade like this is a good way to help in remembering our past as well as all the sacrifices made by our parents and previous generations,” said resident Jennifer MacMillan.

“We need to honor all those in Groton who served in all the wars,” insisted Roy Johnson, a member of the Groton Minuteman Company. “Because if it were not for them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Johnson’s remarks were seconded by 9-year-old Phoebe Hager, who watched as sister, mother and grandmother, all playing instruments with the Marching Band and Chowder Society, passed by in the parade.

“Having a parade on Memorial Day is good,” said Phoebe. “It’s a good idea to remember the soldiers because they should be thanked for everything they did for us.”

Also appreciating the remembrance was Isabella Donders who was visiting the United States from the Netherlands.

“It’s quite a big parade for a small town,” observed a smiling Donders. “It’s a real American tradition. Having a day like this is important because it helps us remember what the soldiers did and how it allows the people to live in freedom.”

The parade route began on the grounds of Legion Hall and wound around to Main Street for a wreath-laying ceremony at the fireman’s memorial before turning back down Hollis Street and pausing at the Old Burying Ground for a similar tribute in honor of the town’s Revolutionary War dead.

With thousands of residents lining the streets, clapping and shouting thanks to veterans as they walked past, the parade continued up Hollis Street to Sawyer Common for a recognition of the sacrifices made by Groton’s Korean and Vietnam War veterans before finally ending atop the high ground overlooking the Groton Cemetery.

It was there that Grunwald delivered his remarks, preceded by a few words from state Sen. Eileen Donoghue urging those in attendance to never to forget the fallen.

Donoghue was followed by Kevin Woitowicz, father of William, who thanked his fellow townsfolk for the support they had given his family in the year since the death of his son and the honor they had shown him.

Woitowicz pointed out that if it was true that for every soldier’s death there were 10 people whose lives were affected, that number must have been significantly higher in Groton.

Finally, in a departure from tradition, local Girl Scouts replaced the Boy Scouts in raising a flag to half staff while veterans took turns laying single flowers in honor of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the country.

“It changes your perspective of Memorial Day when you actually get to march in it as an elected officer of the town,” mused newly minted Board of Selectmen member Jack Petropoulos. “Parades like this in little towns like Groton are the right place for them to be held because it’s in little towns like this that, over the years, men have come from to make the sacrifices needed to ensure our liberty.”

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