Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy G. "Win" Serwinowski looked forward to sitting down with his father later this summer and discussing his future.
Late Sunday, those plans were cut short when a sniper's bullet mortally wounded the 21-year-old from North Tonawanda as he stepped out of a military vehicle while on patrol in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
Serwinowski lived for about an hour before he was pronounced dead early Monday.
Family members said details of the attack are limited, but they believe that after he was shot, a firefight broke out; no other Marines were injured. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"Tim was thinking of continuing his military career, and he wanted to talk it over with me. He only had one month to go before he came home," said a shattered Phillip Serwinowski, the fallen Marine's father. "Tim loved life, and he was a good man. He could have been an even better man if given the chance."
For months, Timothy Serwinowski's relatives had been concerned not only for his safety but also for the safety of another 21-year-old in the family -- his stepbrother, Airman 1st Class David Urban, who had been serving in Iraq since September.
Urban's deployment to Iraq ended Saturday, one day before Serwinowski was shot.
"He learned about the death in Kuwait," James Urban said of his son, adding that he and his wife, Sally Urban, the mother of Serwinowski, have flown the American flag in front of their North Tonawanda home for both sons since they left.
This isn't the first time the tragedy of war has hit home for the Serwinowski family. Richard E. Serwinow-ski, a cousin of Phillip Serwinowski, was killed in Vietnam in the 1960s.
Timothy Serwinowski, a 2007 graduate of North Tonawanda High School, attended Niagara County Community College for a year before enlisting in May 2008.
He never lost touch with his connections to the high school. Before his deployment in December, he had stopped by the Meadow Drive school to say goodbye.
"When I asked him, 'Why the Marines?' he said, 'If you're going to do it, you go with the best,' " said Peter Fezer, his 11th-grade history teacher and 12th-grade economics teacher.
On that visit, Serwinowski also stopped by the school library to view a wall of photographs featuring veterans and current members of the armed forces.
Emily Serwinowski, his 17-year-old sister, had brought his photograph in after librarian Catherine Duquin had asked him for a picture.
"I know he was very proud to see that photograph on the veterans' wall," Fezer said.
The teacher also recalled how, in the years Serwinowski played football for the school team, the Lumberjacks, the 6-foot, 2-inch safety maintained a cheerful disposition and could be counted on for an ever-present smile "even when he was bruised and beat up from football practice."
When Serwinowski turned 21 in December, his family and friends gathered at Pizza Junction in North Tonawanda for a combination party to celebrate his birthday and upcoming deployment.
A photograph of Serwinowski at the party shows him smiling and sitting in front of a birthday cake decorated with two miniature American flags.
"Tim was a little nervous but wanted to leave on a good note," said Alex Rivera, Serwinowski's 20-year-old stepbrother. "I never thought this would happen. He wanted to serve his country."
And that he did, according to North Tonawanda High School Principal James V. Fisher.
"At this somber time we mourn the great future potential that has been lost, but we will forever count Tim as a model of selfless service to his country," Fisher said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the school library.
During Serwinowski's senior year, the principal added, he was honored by his football coaches for his "excellence and leadership" when the Lumberjacks won the Niagara Frontier League's North Division Championship.
Outside the high school, the American flag flew at half-staff as well as next door at Meadow Elementary School, where Serwinowski's mother works as a teacher's aide.
"I'd say to him, 'Honey, we worry about you,' and he'd say, 'Mom, I'm with my family here. I have their back, and they have my back,' " Sally Urban said of conversations she had with her son during his deployment. "I'd ask him if he had a shower, and he'd say, 'I went in the canal.' I said, 'No, a shower?' He never had a shower over there."
True to form in putting the best face on his circumstances, she said he would tell her, "Mom, the Vietnam, Korean and World War II veterans had it so much worse."
When he was at home, she said that he was constantly upbeat and that he loved it when she made him his favorite meal of the day. "He'd say, 'Mom, are you going to make me breakfast?' He loved to eat," she recalled.
Born on his mother's 30th birthday, Serwinowski enjoyed singing and playing the guitar. And while he loved the camaraderie of the Marine Corps, his mother said, he was undecided on whether to make a career of it or, in time, return to college and one day become a state trooper.
Now, the North Tonawanda School District and its graduating Class of 2010 are planning to pay a special tribute to Serwinowski at 10 a.m. Sunday during graduation exercises in Artpark.
Before the diplomas are given to graduates, there will be a moment of silence followed by a tribute read aloud in Serwinowski's honor. Among the graduates, district officials said, will be his sister Emily.
Other survivors include his stepmother, Lori Rivera; an older sister, Kate Serwinowski; a half brother, Rory Serwinowski; a stepbrother, James Urban; and a stepsister, Kelsey Urban.