Published April 13. 2010 4:00AM Updated April 13. 2010 4:27PM
Voluntown - Catherine Williams' hands shook Monday as she wept and tried to hold up a large American flag.
A relative reached over to steady the flagpole and put an arm around Williams' shoulders.
Williams wiped away tears as the hearse carrying her nephew, Lance Cpl. Tyler O. Griffin, passed. The 19-year-old Marine was killed April 1 during combat operations in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
"He's home now," Williams said. "He's home."
Williams' son, Marine Staff Sgt. Brian Demo, traveled with Griffin's body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to the Groton-New London Airport on Monday afternoon. Connecticut State Police and several veterans' motorcycle groups escorted the hearse through Voluntown to the Gagne-Piechowski Funeral Home in Jewett City.
Hundreds of people lined the town's streets to honor Griffin, a Voluntown native. Many of Griffin's close friends were there, along with people who knew of him or who just wanted to pay their respects.
"This is a small town," said Dezerea Pepin, 14. "Even if you don't know someone, you still come out. We're just a big family. Everyone in town is on this street."
David Davis Jr., 22, of Griswold, sat in a pickup with a flag flying from the truckbed. He lived near Griffin when they were growing up and they spent time together the weekend before Griffin deployed to Afghanistan.
"He didn't seem hesitant about going at all," Davis said. "I was happy for him. All he wanted to do was fight for his country."
Davis said he was honoring Griffin by being part of the crowd. "That's what he deserved and what he would have wanted," he said.
Griffin was born in Norwich and graduated from Griswold High School in 2008. Former classmates said he talked constantly about joining the Marines, even telling teachers that the military's entrance examination mattered more to him than classroom tests.
"He was diehard for the Marines," said Kyle Kurisoo, 19, of Voluntown.
James O'Neill, 18, also of Voluntown, was close with Griffin since they first met in middle school. When people questioned his motivation for joining the Marines, O'Neill said, Griffin would often say, "If not me, then who?"
O'Neill did not believe the news about his friend's death until he spoke with Griffin's mother. Griffin is the son of Susan Perry Wilding and Brian Griffin, who predeceased him, and John Wilding of Voluntown.
"I knew stuff like this could happen," O'Neill said. "But he wanted to be a Marine. You can't say he shouldn't have gone. This is what he wanted to do."
Griffin's relatives gathered near Voluntown Elementary School and waved American flags as the processional passed on Monday.
"I had to be here, I just had to be here for him coming home," said Bridget Horan, Griffin's grandmother, who lives in Gales Ferry.
Griffin was assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He had been in Afghanistan for only about a month.
The Defense Department has not released additional details about the deaths of Griffin and another Marine, Sgt. Frank J. World, 25, of Buffalo, N.Y.
A funeral service will be held Wednesday at the Voluntown Baptist Church, followed by burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
"There's no way that the townspeople or anybody else can express how we feel for the loss of this Marine," First Selectman Ronald Millovitsch said.
Williams said the outpouring of support has been "phenomenal," adding that the family is grateful to the people of Voluntown and surrounding communities.