The people who knew Eugene C. Mills III, and watched him grow up in the Maryland suburbs, could not praise him enough. In part, they said, it was his family who made him the man he was, and it was also the Marine Corps.
Lance Cpl. Mills, who was 21 and listed Laurel as his home town, died June 22 in combat in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Saturday.
“He loved the military,” said a resident of Maple Terrace, the quiet street in west Laurel where Mills grew up. “He seemed to relish it. He was good at it.”
“He was a great kid,” added the neighbor, Robert Mancini. “He put forth all his effort to be the best he could be,” Mancini said, and became “one heck of a man.”
Neighbors recalled him as polite, helpful and respectful, with an invariable “yes, ma’am,” and “no, ma’am.” Liz Rice, who knew him well, told him that such formality was not needed with her.
But, she said, it was courtesy that was instilled in him by his mother, Theresa, and his father, Gene, a former Prince George’s County police officer. And the Marines, she said, “just brought out the best in him.”
She said that despite his harsh surroundings, “he always looked happy” in Facebook pictures.
At home on leave, he showed the poise and polish of a figure from a glossy magazine illustration. “He looked like a GQ model,” neighbor Lucy Ertter said. “He was just a really strikingly good looking young man.”
Neighbors remembered him as quick to lend a hand. Mancini, who uses crutches, remembered how Mills would spot him trying to unload groceries from his car and, unasked, would run to help.
Mancini said he understood that Mills had wanted to join the Marines for years. He said that Mills’s father had told him after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that the son had expressed a desire to enlist and “go get those guys.”
He “wanted to serve his country,” Rice said. He was a “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful” young man.