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BILLERICA -- When the Yankee Doodle Homecoming parade kicks off tomorrow afternoon, it will be twice as big as last year.
The reason: About 40 honor guards from police departments as far away as Virginia will make the trek to Billerica to march in the parade.
The idea to invite police from near and far to join in the town's signature event came in May, when several Billerica officers arrived at a sober realization: The only time large groups of police officers routinely get together is for a funeral.
"We thought it would be great to get together for a happy occasion," said Officer Don Boulette, a Billerica patrolman who is in the department's honor guard.
So just after Memorial Day, Boulette began reaching out to police departments throughout New England. He called nearly every one in Massachusetts alone.
"Just a lot of phone calls and asking around and leaving voice messages," he said. "Some got back to me, some didn't. But you'd talk to one person, and they'd say, 'Hey, call this guy,' and it just kind of mushroomed from there."
That led Boulette to the honor guard for the sheriff's department in Fairfax County, located in the northeastern tip of Virginia. Most of the honor guards that will be marching are from Massachusetts, though, with one from New York and a few from New Hampshire and Maine.
"The people that are involved quite often volunteer their time and have pride in their organizations and the agency," Boulette said. "It's a chance to share notes with people who are like-minded and want to attend events."
One honor guard is coming with 12 members.
Billerica has about a dozen active participants, and about six will be marching tomorrow. Typically, the Billerica Honor Guard leads the parade.
Honor guards are able to showcase their abilities at events like Yankee Doodle, Boulette said. Most departments have a patrol car from their community and have at least two riflemen and two flag bearers.
Tomorrow's parade starts runs from 10 a.m. to noon. To find out more about Yankee Doodle Homecoming and see a schedule of events, visit www.yankeedoodlehomecoming.org.
 
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