Military officials confirmed that a Marine Corps CH-46 helicopter was lost Wednesday 20 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing five Marines and two Navy hospital corpsmen. None was identified in what officials said was the fifth American helicopter crash in Iraq in the past three weeks, officials said.
"He was very proud of what he was doing and we are very proud of him," said Lisa Ruiz, who retired more than a decade ago after serving 20 years in the Navy as an information technician.
"He volunteered for this second tour in Iraq," said Corpsman Ruiz's mother, who wore a "Navy Mom" sweatshirt yesterday. "He always wanted helicopter duty instead of working in a hospital. I guess he wanted to be where the action was, and we're sure he saved as many as he could."
Corpsman Ruiz was a member of the 2nd Marine Battalion, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he met his girlfriend, Brandy Jenkins, a corpsman who remains on active duty in Iraq, his mother said.
"She's from Georgia, and they were stationed there, but we haven't met her yet," said Mrs. Ruiz, who works at the town post office. Manuel Ruiz Sr. works for a tree service in St. Michaels.
The family has lived in Federalsburg since 1994, when Mrs. Ruiz retired from the Navy.
She had met her husband years before when she was stationed in Spain, where he was serving in the Spanish army. They got to know Federalsburg while visiting a Navy friend who grew up here.
The couple decided that the town of 2,600 would be a good place for "Manuelito," Spanish for Little Manuel, and his brother, Josh, now 16, to grow up. Another son, Jacob, now 13, was born in Federalsburg.
"He was the best brother ever," Jacob Ruiz said yesterday, showing off the NFL replica jersey and hat that had arrived Wednesday in a package from the corpsman. "We talked a lot on the Internet. He told me never to quit playing football, to never give up."
Corpsman Ruiz's siblings said their brother was eager to pursue a Navy career when he graduated from high school three years ago. Like many small-town boys, he wanted to see the world.
He never played organized sports after a few years of baseball as a youngster, but he loved distance running on his own. Corpsman Ruiz was a talented artist, and the family has many paintings and drawings.
Marjorie Scott, who has taught art for 24 years at the 650-student high school that Corpsman Ruiz attended, remembers him as a gifted student.
"There are just some kids you'll always remember, no matter where they go or what they do, how their lives go - Manny was one of those," Ms. Scott said.