Every morning a recently-retired Groton man gets up and goes to his son's grave in Westford, just to visit for a few minutes and to see what might have been left there.
Sgt. William Woitowicz was a hero, killed in combat in Afghanistan on June 7, 2011.
His father Kevin collects the military insignia and pins left on Bill's grave. One piece, a brass World War II Marine Corps, he cemented to the plaque near the headstone.
The sadness remains. "It doesn't fade," he said. "It's there every day."
Woitowicz is proud of his son. Only one percent of U.S. citizens are in the armed forces and that is the one percent that matters, he said.
A well-thumbed book with pictures of Bill in Afghanistan was a gift, assembled from photos that others took. Two cases contain his Silver Star and Purple Heart.
People taking the time to remember Bill is important. Simple things, like the neighbors that take time to landscape the plaque in the sergeant's honor in a nearby park, make a difference.
Learning about Bill's valor from people who were there helps.
His fellow teammates took time to tell the family how Bill, 23, died. He laid down covering fire while others including fellow Marines and members of the U.S. Army and Afghan National Army made it over a stone wall to safety.
Woitowicz did not. He was shot in the back and the bullet came out of his stomach. He died within ten minutes, the email to the family said.
A team member accompanied Woitowicz's body home.
The Marine Corps was there for the family every step of the way, the elder Woitowicz said.
One man calls every Christmas. Woitowicz saved his life and enabled him to have a family.
During the Silver Cross Award ceremony, Woitowicz learned generals faced the same challenges he did. Their sons were in harm's way just like Billy was.
Woitowicz knows his middle child died doing exactly what he wanted to do.
Bill said no to college and enlisted in the fall after graduating from Groton-Dunstable Regional High School in 2007.
Bill waited until the cooler weather to join the Marine Corps at the suggestion of his father. Kevin thought boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina would be too hot for a New England boy during the summer.
Once in the Marines, he extended his enlistment to attempt to get into the special forces. He succeeded.
He volunteered to fill out an existing combat team in Afghanistan. He died, saving others.
Another Groton soldier died during the Global War on Terror which began after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
On Sept. 30, 2004, Woitowicz's cousin, Army Staff St. Darren J. Cunningham, died at age 40 in Iraq. The father of a son and daughter, he was killed during a mortar attack while he slept. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Cunningham had served 22 years and had about 30 days to go until he was due to retire, his brother Glenn said. Darren volunteered to go to Iraq.
"It was really tragic the way that it worked out," he said.
"Darren loved the military," his brother said. "While they don't look forward to going, they know the chance is there."
He and Darren were inseparable as boys, Glenn said. If you saw one brother, you saw the other.
The family has scattered, the family farm in Groton sold. The military man lived in Fort Hood, Texas when he died and left behind a son and daughter.
Last fall, Glenn filled a promise he made to his brother's daughter Katie when her father died and she was 12. Wearing a kilt, he walked her down the aisle during her wedding.
During the father-daughter dance, "she was crying on my chest, I'm kind of crying on her shoulder," Glenn said.
At his request, he split the father-daughter dance duty with Katie's stepfather.
Both he and his sister keep a shrine to their brother's memory, Glenn said. They each have pictures and a flag because there were many services.
The Middlesex G.W.O.T. Committee wants to include a bench dedicated to these two fallen heroes in a planned monument to honor the military personnel of Middlesex County who served in the post 9/11 war.
The nonprofit has raised $75,00 of the $200,000 estimated cost for the memorial. It will a granite monument, benches and walkway around a five-pointed star. Bricks, pavers and benches can be purchased and dedicated to memorialize veterans and support the monument.
It will be installed at the crossroads of Routes 111 and 113 beside the rotary in Pepperell.
"I think he'd be honored," Glenn said, of his brother's inclusion in the monument.
Woitowicz has been talking about fundraiser with friends and family.
In 2012, Groton dedicated a memorial in Sawyer Common including Cunningham and Woitowicz. It honors two other post-WWII soldiers who died in war, PFC Carol G. Wheeler and Spec. Terrance F. Kane.
The town also renamed Stonebridge Park as the Sgt. William J. Woitowicz Field. An Eagle Scout project of a stone and plaque dedicated to the fallen hero is in the park.
The Middlesex G.W.O.T. will hold a fundraiser featuring the Tastes like Chicken Band at the Groton Country Club, 94 Lover's Lane, Groton, on Nov. 18. From 7 p.m. to midnight.
Tickets are $20. For more information or to make a donation visit the MiddlesexGWOT Facebook page or middlesexgwot.org.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.