The reality of the war in Afghanistan hit home this past week when we learned of West Laurel's Marine Lance Corp. Eugene "Gene" Mills III was killed in combat on June 22. Shock and disbelief resonated throughout the community as the news traveled fast. Young 21-year-old Gene was supposed to come home soon and have Chesapeake Bay blue crabs with his family. His second tour of duty in Afghanistan was almost over. "Just one more mission," he had told his father.

There was a mix-up in communication as to the whereabouts of "Big" Gene. The military representative went to Bowie instead of Laurel. When he finally reached Gene by phone, he told him to wait there at his house on Maple Terrace. Young Gene's father waited 45 excruciating minutes for the worst and most devastating news of his life.

There have been many more "excruciatingly painful" moments for this young soldier's family, which includes his father, retired Prince George's County police officer Gene Mills and his wife, Melissa Mills; young Gene's mother, Theresa Mills; and his little brother, Jake. We can't even imagine their private moments of grief and anguish nor would we want to. It's all real: the war, the grief and the nightmare.

Gene was an energetic, wide-eyed little boy with a sweet smile. He grew up with his little brother Jake just three doors down from our house. He was a typical little boy full of vim and vigor. He went to the West Laurel Swim Club in the summer and rode his bike everywhere. He made forever friends at Bond Mill Elementary. He was a handsome, respectful young man.


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As he grew up, I saw him less because that's what teenagers do, they leave their nice safe yards where they played so freely, and spread their wings. His dad, Gene, kept us abreast of his son's most recent adventures and was very proud of both his sons.

Gene went for his dream to be a soldier and protect a country he loved. He wanted to make a difference. He did. Gene made a difference from the moment he was born in 1990. He will continue to make a difference in the hearts of his family, friends and neighbors. He will always be with us. Semper Fi.

As we celebrate Independence Day this week, perhaps we can take a moment to remember those who have given everything they could give. We can stop for a moment and appreciate a country that still has a lot of work to do but where we can all stand up freely and proudly and sing the "Star Spangled Banner."