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Watertown is runner-up in road rally competition for most patriotic town

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Watertown many not have been dubbed the nation’s “most patriotic” town in the Best Road Rally put on by Rand McNally, but it certainly came close to grabbing the prize, said the team of two judges from Georgia and Florida who completed a 7,200-mile trip Friday in Seattle.

As one of the five runners-up that competed in the “most patriotic” category, Watertown fell short to Gainesville, Texas, in a decision made Friday by a panel of organizers who reviewed presentations on the towns from judges.

Watertown was the first stop for the “most patriotic” judges Sandra J. McKenna of Palm Harbor, Fla., and Rick Griffin of Jonesboro, Ga., who visited the weekend of June 16. Their trip included stops at shops and restaurants in Watertown, Clayton and Sackets Harbor and a tour of Fort Drum.

Mr. Griffin, 50, said he and Mrs. McKenna, 55, chose “Team MidLife” for their name and kicked off their stop in Watertown with a hearty breakfast at the Crystal Restaurant in Public Square.

“It’s an old-school place with eggs and sausage that reminded me of the South,” Mr. Griffin said, adding they ate there on back-to-back mornings.

He said the highlight was the visit to Fort Drum, where they visited with leaders who spoke about the post’s prominent role in the community. What struck him the most was the way residents and businesses give back to the post and vice versa.

“I couldn’t believe the way the whole town comes together to support the fort,” he said. “A general told us a story about civilians who won an award at the base and decided to put it toward building a memorial.”

But while the team saw a plethora of monuments and American flags here, Mr. Griffin said talking first-hand with residents was what really made a patriotic impression.

“Watertown was so inspirational — it was a feeling we both had when we left,” he said. “There were a lot of outward signs of patriotism there, but I think it was the stories we heard talking from people that were so impressive in Watertown. They showed that patriotism isn’t just about waving a flag.”

Concurring, Mrs. McKenna said her view of what patriotism truly means was broadened after the team visited Fort Drum. After hearing stories from residents and active soldiers at the post, “we walked away not from military or civilian people, but looking at Watertown as one well-oiled community,” she said.

In addition to being exhausted after their zigzagging trek across the country, they left with a different idea of what it means to be U.S. citizens. While patriotism is an abstract concept, Mrs. McKenna said, it’s something that’s embodied in Americans’ hearts and minds.

“We didn’t know what we were looking for when we started, but when we finished we decided that patriotism is in the hearts and souls of people,” she said. “It’s in their love of other human beings, their willingness to sacrifice in one way or another.”

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