WAYNE — When people would wish former Marine sergeant and current Maine author Craig Grossi “happy Memorial Day,” he used to scowl and, with thoughts of friends he lost to war while serving in Afghanistan heavy on his mind, say, “What’s so happy about it?”

But his late dog, Fred, a stray mutt he came across on the battlefields of Afghanistan, showed him a better way.

Grossi befriended Fred after offering the dirty dog some of his beef jerky, and Fred continued to follow Grossi and his fellow Marines on patrols, sleeping with them in their sleeping bags at night.

Grossi was hospitalized after an anti-tank rocket landed next to him and exploded, leaving him unconscious and suffering from a traumatic brain injury. While in the hospital, Grossi hatched a plan to  eventually — and against regulations — bring Fred with him to the United States when he left Afghanistan.

When the two boarded a helicopter, Grossi surely saved Fred’s life by removing him from dangerous territory, where the only other dogs were large ones kept for protection. Fred, with short, corgi-like legs and a friendly demeanor, stood out for his vulnerability.

Craig Grossi, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and an author, speaks Monday during the Memorial Day observance in Wayne. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Grossi told a crowd that had gathered Monday for Memorial Day events in Wayne that Fred, who died about six months ago, had saved his life multiple times by teaching him life lessons. Grossi said he learned to persevere, no matter the challenges in life, and to live life to the fullest.


“I saved him, but he’s saved me countless times,” Grossi said. “Even since losing him about six months ago, he’s continuing to find ways to save me, by sharing his story.”

He said, sometimes through tears, that Fred’s lessons helped his feelings about Memorial Day evolve.

“This day was about pain, death, loss and the absurdity of war, the guilt of surviving,” Grossi said as light rain fell at Memorial Park in Wayne. “As the years passed, Fred did his work on me.  He was a dog from a hot and dusty battlefield, but his soul was gentle, unless, of course, you were a squirrel.

“As I began sharing our story, more and more, I started to realize and appreciate just how incredible it was that we both, Fred and I, made it out alive. And, crucially, I realized that because we had survived, it was my duty to live an adventurous and loving life, and, above all else, to tell the tale. Memorial Day is a reminder, a call to action for us all. We are tasked with living lives worthy of the sacrifices made by those who died in the name of freedom. If they could speak directly to us, our fallen would say: ‘Do not fear death. Embrace it as the ultimate reminder to suck the marrow out of every day.’ Because nothing lasts forever, except the love we leave behind.”

Grossi is a former Virginia resident who has settled in central Maine with his wife, Nora, and dogs Ruby and Bingo. His first book, “Craig & Fred: A Marine, a Stray Dog and How They Rescued Each Other,” came out in 2017. His second book, “Second Chances: A Marine, His Dog, and Finding Redemption,” about his time volunteering with Fred to teach veterans who were prisoners at the Maine State Prison, came out in 2021.

Participants in the Memorial Day observance in Wayne hold their hands over their hearts while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Memorial Park holiday events Monday in Wayne were preceded by a parade, led by about 15 Wayne veterans from multiple branches of the military, followed by several classic cars and other parade participants.


The parade stopped to lay a wreath at the Memorial Stone on Pocasset Lake, before continuing on for ceremonies at Memorial Park, which included reading the names of veterans from Wayne who had died over the past year.

Students from Maranacook Community High School in Readfield sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the American flag was raised from half-staff, and the choir from Wayne Community Church sang “Blades of Grass and Pure White Stones.” Following that ceremony, Wayne native and Navy veteran Bobby Charles tossed a wreath into the water as two trumpeters played taps.

It was one of numerous Memorial Day events held across the region.

Emily Fortin and her daughter, Eleanor Gorrill-Fortin, 3, of Wayne watch the parade Monday that is part of the Memorial Day observance in Wayne. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

At the conclusion of the Memorial Day parade in Sidney, about 100 people squeezed into the Sidney Grange to listen to a series of speeches delivered by local veterans.

Maj. Gen. Bill Libby, the day’s master of ceremonies and a veteran of the Vietnam War, told of his family’s military service and his childhood in Sidney.

He urged that people push back against what he described as the “commercialization of Memorial Day,” reminding listeners that the holiday is about those who died serving in the armed forces — not hot dogs, discounted mattresses and a three-day weekend.


“Today is not a celebration,” Libby said. “It is an opportunity to remember and reflect on those who have given a life on behalf of this nation.”

Libby said Memorial Day is not only a time to remember those killed in the line of duty. It is an annual opportunity to acknowledge the horrors of war and try to prevent other soldiers from meeting the same fate.

“My war was Vietnam, a war of choice, in my opinion,” Libby said. “We were not attacked. We were not threatened. But we had a political notion that we had to stem communism somewhere.

“Why divide our history into wars of necessity and wars of choice? Because Congress is the only organization that can declare a war, and they have not done that since World War II. How many tens of thousands of men and women have been lost in nondeclared wars since then?”

Morning Sentinel staff writer Dylan Tusinski contributed to this report.

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