Two young Marylanders - a Marine from Harford County and a sailor from the Eastern Shore - died in separate incidents Wednesday in Iraq.
Marine Cpl. Jennifer Marie Parcell, 20, of Bel Air was killed while supporting combat operations in Anbar province. Navy Corpsman Manuel Ruiz Jr., 21, of Federalsburg in Caroline County was killed in the crash of a CH-46 Marine Corps helicopter.
Both followed family members into the military.
Corporal Parcell was inspired by the enlistment of her older brother, and Corpsman Ruiz's mother served 20 years in the Navy. Their deaths brought to 55 the number of Marylanders who have died in Iraq.
Corporal Parcell, a 2004 graduate of Fallston High School, was a landing support specialist for combat operations and was scheduled to leave Iraq on March 1 and return to Okinawa, where she was stationed. She was the fourth Maryland woman to die in military service in Iraq.
Yesterday, several family members gathered at the home of her parents to console one another over her loss. Large yellow ribbons adorned the ranch-style house, and the U.S. flag and a Marine Corps banner hung at the entrance to the driveway.
"I want my daughter honored," said Pamala Simon, adding that she plans to fly the flags indefinitely.
Corporal Parcell followed in the footsteps of her older brother, Cpl. Joseph Parcell, joining the Marines soon after she graduated from Fallston High.
"She went to his Marine graduation, and that really motivated her to join," said Martha Benton, the siblings' maternal aunt.
Brother and sister crossed paths in Iraq last fall, when both were serving their first tour there. Joseph Parcell said he sometimes slipped and called his sister "Boo," a childhood nickname.
"She was as always upbeat," said the brother, who is stationed in Cherry Point, N.C. "She was there to do a job, and she believed in what she was doing. None of us want to go to war, but when you see those people and what their lives are like, you want to help."
While her brother is considering a military career, Jennifer Parcell planned to leave the Marines and attend college when her tour ended in 2009. She had taken several courses online, her brother said.
"Even in Iraq, she was taking a course at University of Maryland," he said. "Imagine going halfway around the world to go to Maryland."
Ms. Benton, of Aberdeen, described her niece as a real "go-getter."
"She knew what she wanted and she knew what it took to get to her goals," the aunt said.
Helping others was routine for the Marine corporal. She sponsored an African child through a mission charity. And when Pakistan was devastated by an earthquake last year, she and others in her unit were dispatched to the scene. She earned the Humanitarian Service Medal for her efforts.
When Corporal Parcell was home visiting last June, she posed for a picture in her dress blues, with several medals pinned on her jacket. The photo was taken at Mount Calvary Free Will Baptist Church in Aberdeen, where her family plans to hold a funeral service.
"We are honored ... to have two Marines in our family," Ms. Benton said.
Corpsman Ruiz was killed, along with another Navy medical corpsman and six Marines, when the transport helicopter they were aboard crashed in Iraq, his family said yesterday.
He was two weeks into his second tour of duty as a Navy corpsman who treated wounded Marines, his mother, Lisa Ruiz, said.
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.
Corpsman Ruiz was a three-year veteran who enlisted soon after he graduated from Col. Richardson High School in rural Caroline County, his mother 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.