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Groton recalls Marine killed overseas

Joining Corps was Woitowicz’s dream

William Woitowicz was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan. William Woitowicz was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan.
By Ben Wolford
Globe Correspondent / June 10, 2011

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GROTON — William Woitowicz was a tall, lanky high schooler — “all arms and legs,’’ one teacher said.

More than four years in the Marines changed that. Woitowicz visited teachers at his alma mater, Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, during a recent Christmas holiday leave, and he was lean and fit.

“We all ogled over him,’’ said Tammie Reynolds, his history teacher. “He looked so grown up. He looked so good and so happy.’’

It was the last time friends and family saw Woitowicz, 23, before he was killed Tuesday during his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. Longtime teachers could not remember another graduate of the school to die in combat.

Woitowicz graduated in 2007 and went straight into the Marine Corps. He was serving with a unit based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and fighting as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Badghis Province, in northwestern Afghanistan. He was killed by small-arms fire, said First Sergeant Edward Owens, a Marine Corps spokesman.

Woitowicz’s family did not wish to comment yesterday, they said through friends. His father, Kevin, was traveling to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware “where Billy will be coming home,’’ said Joe Moore, who described the fallen Marine as like a son to him.

“The parents are just two extraordinarily hard-working, give-you-the-shirt-off-their-back kinds of people. My heart breaks for them,’’ said Mark Hennelly, a guidance counselor at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.

His mother, Rosemary, is a nurse, a neighbor said, and Kevin Woitowicz is a postal worker and volunteer firefighter at the Westford Fire Department, which serves Groton, a town of 10,000 about an hour northwest of Boston.

“For any community that’s faced with this, it brings the harsh realities of war that much closer to us on a personal level,’’ said Westford Fire Chief Richard Rochon.

Woitowicz’s father and his uncle, David Woitowicz, have both worked at the department more than 35 years. Rochon said that, for now, the family is grieving and busy making funeral arrangements.

Some high school students may think of joining the military to see the world or get an education. For Woitowicz, being a Marine was what he wanted to do, Reynolds said.

“That was his dream,’’ said Kevin Coffey, a Groton neighbor who knew Woitowicz all his life, from infancy to his teenage years, when he hung out with Coffey’s two sons. “The camaraderie of the Marine Corps was something that he was really drawn to.’’

He said Woitowicz used to work summers repairing small motors at a shop in nearby Harvard. Sometimes, Woitowicz went to high school early to play basketball with teachers. Sometimes he did their yard work.

“If my car broke down in the parking lot, he would come with jumper cables,’’ said Marisa Brisson, assistant principal at the high school. She said news of Woitowicz’s death shocked employees of the school, where it is not uncommon for students to have teachers’ cellphone numbers.

“Because of the kind of school we are — teachers and students are extremely close, more than any school I’d been at — teachers took it very hard,’’ Brisson said.

Reynolds, the history teacher, had been exchanging letters with Woitowicz while he was serving in the military. She said he enjoyed the military so much, he even liked boot camp, though at first he was homesick.

Teachers said Woitowicz wanted to go to college after the military, though they didn’t know what he would study. Brisson had him in one of her art classes. He didn’t want to be an artist, but she said Woitowicz brought enthusiasm to everything he was doing.

“I don’t think there was a day I saw him that he didn’t have a smile on his face,’’ she said.

Ben Wolford can be reached at bwolford@globe.com.

Clarification: This story indicates, based on the recollections of longtime teachers, that William Woitowicz was the first person from Groton-Dunstable Regional High School to be killed in action. A school official has confirmed that Darren Cunningham, who was killed in 2004 in Iraq, was a 1982 graduate of the school.