Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 10, 2014

Pride and patriotism reign Andover Strong

The Andover Townsman

---- — Andover has much to be proud of as a community. Its schools are often celebrated for their quality. Its early history paved the way for much of the country’s future. Its preservation of open space is an example for other communities.

But for a few hours on one Sunday morning every April, the town seems to shine most bright.

Such was the case this past Sunday, when more than 2,300 runners — and hundreds more spectators — gathered by the Town Offices to embrace a cause with near universal support.

The annual Run for the Troops 5K is more than about building houses for military men and women injured while serving their country. It’s about giving back and thanking those who have paid a dear sacrifice for our freedom.

This year’s honoree, Army Staff Sgt. Matthew DeWitt, lost both hands while serving in Iraq in 2003. His Humvee was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade when his regiment came under enemy attack. It was his first deployment.

Past recipients have suffered similar fates. Last year’s honoree, Marine Cpl. Kevin Dubois, lost both legs in 2011 when he stepped on an IED while in Afghanistan. He returned to Andover on Sunday the grateful recipient of a new house in Rhode Island, which he and his wife moved into in December. They brought along their newborn son, too.

Dubois was joined by 2011 honoree Army Sgt. Joseph Smith, who was paralyzed from the waist down in 2004 when two Afghanis pushed a 450-pound storage container on top of him, nearly killing him. He now calls North Carolina home, thanks to the support of Andover’s Run for the Troops.

Sunday’s race was accented by shows of patriotism at every turn, from the oversized flag hanging from the crane at the finish line to scores of runners wearing red, white and blue and carrying the stars and stripes along the course.

Much praise was extended to the race organizers for bringing the community together behind such a worthy cause.

Leading the way with her admiration was Catrina Peck, DeWitt’s fiancee. Her family will be the 200th Homes For Our Troops recipients later this year when they move into their new, specially equipped house in Concord, N.H. — thanks in part to the support of the runners on Sunday.

While DeWitt was away on training over the weekend and could not attend the race, Peck ran the course with her young son, Reed. And she couldn’t have been more grateful for the show of warmth and support she and her son felt along the way.

“The camaraderie here today is just wonderful,” she said after crossing the finish line.

Merrimack Valley Striders team member Chuck McAllister, who ran the race with about 90 other participants from his group, perhaps spoke for many when he said the reason for his involvement “is obvious.”

“You meet the people who ... have given much more than I’ve ever had to, and you get a little teary-eyed thinking about it,” he said. “They’ve done so much for us. We really need to give back.”

In just about 10 days, the Boston Marathon will return to the streets of a city that suffered the unthinkable one year ago. Boston Strong will ring out from all along the 26-mile route.

But this past Sunday, this community displayed its very own version of what could be called Andover Strong. And for that, the town should be immensely proud.