U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. James Stack, of Arlington Heights, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country on Nov. 10, 2010, in southern Afghanistan.
His 3rd Battalion/5th Regiment suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the war up to that time. Stack, 20, a rifleman, was on foot patrol when he was shot and killed, leaving behind a wife, Katie, and a 1-year-old girl, Mikayla.
But Stack's story didn't end there.
Since then, his family and his widow's family have committed to helping other soldiers. On Sunday, for the second straight year, James' mother, Linda Stack, and his mother-in-law, Dawn Hedrick, both of Arlington Heights, led a volunteer effort to collect items and assemble care packages for the troops currently serving in Afghanistan.
At the American Legion Post 208 in Arlington Heights Sunday, volunteers boxed up all of the items donated from local residents and businesses -- everything from Ramen noodles and Rice Krispies treats to medical supplies for the troops currently serving in Afghanistan.
"We're trying to send at least five boxes to every person," said Hedrick.
The boxes, she said, contain toiletries, ice packs, Girl Scout cookies, soup, candy and even celebrity magazines.
"One guy told me that he loved his People magazine. That was a little piece from home," Hedrick said.
The Stack and Hendrick families have bonded since James' death. Their children, James and Katie, met as high school students at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, and married before he left for Afghanistan. Katie has since remarried. She and her husband -- also a Marine -- moved to California with Mikayla, who is now 3.
"She's my son in a dress," Linda Stack joked about her granddaughter. "She looks like him, she acts like him, and she's got his personality."
For Sunday's event, local businesses donated to the effort, including the California Pizza Kitchen and Olive Garden restaurants.
"It's amazing, and I'm very thankful," Linda Stack said, crediting Hedrick especially. "Dawn is the engine behind this."
Stack also expressed gratitude to the community for supporting those still in harm's way.
"Just to be reaching out to his brothers in arms is the biggest thing," she said.
Dawn Hedrick and Linda Stack shopped for items on Sunday morning, and during the event, filled out shipping forms so the troops would receive their packages in the mail.
"It's just been a wonderful experience," Stack said. "Like I've told others, 'If I don't keep smiling, I'm going to cry.'"
Stack said her son, an avid hunter, was fulfilling his childhood dream of being Marine when he was killed. She spoke with admiration for the courage displayed by her son and the other Marines in Afghanistan.
"What they had to do and what they endured was unbelievable," she said. "(His death) was not in vain, because James did what he wanted to do and he gave (the people of Afghanistan) hope and he fought bravely."
One care package they sent last year went to a Marine who had served with James. They received back from him a heartwarming progress report of how things were going in Afghanistan.
"Kids were going to school, and it was just a completely radically different place because of the efforts of my son and his battalion, and the battalions that came after him," she said.
"They made a huge difference, and we have another day of freedom because of them."
Hedrick said people can still help their care package efforts. Email her at HelpUSAtroops@gmail.com for more information.