|William J. Woitowicz’s funeral was held yesterday.|
In Groton, a final honor for a fallen Marine
WESTFORD — If Sergeant William J. Woitowicz needed prayers, he would not have wanted them, said family friend Joseph Moore in a eulogy during a funeral Mass yesterday morning.
The 23-year-old fallen Marine from Groton would have wanted prayers to go to his parents, brother, and sister.
People who knew Woitowicz praised him for his selflessness and enthusiasm during the Mass at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Westford. It was the second day of local ceremonies for the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School graduate.
“That was Billy — always more concern for you than he had for himself,’’ Moore said.
The Marine Corps awarded Woitowicz a Purple Heart and promoted him to the rank of sergeant posthumously during the Mass, which was attended by hundreds, including a dozen Marines, Governor Deval Patrick, and other elected officials.
Woitowicz was killed by small-arms fire on June 7 in the northwestern Badghis Province of Afghanistan, a military spokesman said. He was deployed as part of the Second Marine Special Operations Battal ion of the Marine Special Operations Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
On Tuesday, Woitowicz’s body arrived at nearby Hanscom Field on a plane from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the country’s war dead are returned.
“Hundreds, if not thousands’’ met the procession along Route 2 with flags, many of them sobbing, the Rev. David White said.
Yesterday, flags hung over the streets or flew at half-staff on lawns all over Groton and neighboring Westford, where Woitowicz’s father and uncle are firefighters.
“He was always, always positive,’’ said Corporal Michael Mitri, a Marine from Connecticut who was stationed with Woitowicz in California in 2008. “I’ve never met a Marine like him.’’
“He went to the gym three times a day,’’ said Mitri, who had flown in from San Diego for the funeral. “He ran, like, a 16-minute, 3-mile. Broke the base record.’’
The brawny athlete laid to rest was far from the tall, lanky teenager his high school teachers described. But friends said his personality never changed. He was charming and inquisitive, they said.
A younger Woitowicz playfully wrestled friends to the ground, Moore said.
Once when he jabbed a ball-point pen into a hard soda can, spraying the family car, his father said “walk.’’ When his sister cried for her brother, their father relented and drove back for him.
They found him strolling along with a grin, Moore said.
A wake was held Wednesday in the church instead of the funeral home to accommodate the crowds. It was scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. but lasted until 10 p.m., as more than 3,000 waited in line for three hours to pay their respect, he said.
“I’ve never seen anything this big,’’ Ward Healy of J.A. Healy Sons Funeral Home said.
Before Woitowicz enlisted, his parents, Kevin and Rosemary, tried to convince him not to join the Marines, and Moore said he talked with him about the decision. But Woitowicz was resolved, and he joined after graduating high school in 2007.
The Rev. Peter Quinn of St. Catherine’s, who knows the family, said Woitowicz’s parents are devastated but proud.
“They’re torn because they knew their son was very happy doing what he was doing,’’ he said.
It was his pride in being in the Marine Corps that led Woitowicz to volunteer to go to Afghanistan before the rest of his unit, Moore said. He deployed when a soldier in combat was wounded.
Corporal Ryan Brown knew Woitowicz in California, and yesterday he eagerly recalled something Woitowicz said when they were hanging out at a friend’s house:
“I want to feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.’’
Ben Wolford can be reached at email@example.com.