If there was anything that Army Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles loved as much as his family, it was his country. And he died serving it.
Muralles, 33, a flight medic who had served proudly as an Army Ranger, was among 16 service members killed June 28 when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Special Operations team had been searching for a squad of four Navy SEALs. The attack was the single deadliest blow to American forces in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. One of the missing SEALs was later rescued, and the bodies of the other three were recovered. Muralles and seven of those who died with him that day were members of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.
Yesterday, a heavy rain subsided just moments before services for Muralles were scheduled to begin. Gray clouds parted and bright sunshine fell upon the dozens who had gathered to mourn.
Muralles was born in Louisiana to Guatemalan immigrants. He was close to his older sister, Cynthia Swazay, and later followed her to Shelbyville, Ind. Most recently, he and his wife, Diana, lived in Georgia, where his unit was based at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah.
Judy Pavey, 27, who works as a receptionist in the physical therapy clinic where Swazay is the office manager, met Muralles only once but he made an impression. Several years ago during a leave, the strong, silent brother she had heard so much about showed up at work to visit his sister.
"She immediately jumped out of her chair to give him a hug," recalled Pavey, who lives in Manilla, Ind. "She would always talk about her little brother and how he was over there fighting for everyone else's freedom."
Muralles, who had done several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was exceptionally close to his family. He called home as often as possible, friends said, never knowing when his next chance to do so would come.
Amanda Tong of Shelbyville, who has been close friends with Swazay for more than a decade, recalled her friend telling her about the grueling training her brother had undergone to become part of the Special Operations force.
"They had to go into environments that most people would not be able to withstand," Tong, 30, said. "He was completely dedicated to what he did."
At the cemetery, pallbearers wearing dark raincoats over their uniforms took the American flag draping the coffin in their gloved hands and folded it with methodical precision before passing it to Maj. Gen. Herbert L. Altshuler, commander of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne).
Altshuler bowed his head and presented the flag to Muralles's wife, Diana. He solemnly handed a second flag to the soldier's mother, Rosemarie Dill of Shelbyville, and a third to his father, Arturo Muralles, who lives in Guatemala.
As the service came to an end, Diana Muralles knelt before the silver coffin. The couple has two children: 4-year-old Marcus Dominic, whom friends described as a "spitting image of his father," and Anna Elise, who turned 10 on July 4.
Muralles, who had hoped to train to become a physician's assistant, had been scheduled to come home in time to surprise Anna Elise on her birthday.
A memorial service was held at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, and friends said another was being planned in Shelbyville.