When the five Marines were swimming back to shore, Lance Cpl. Cruz and Lance Cpl. James May Jr., 19, of Sumner County, Kan., were caught in the undertow, Febres said. Cpl. Paul Fagundes, 29, of Bristol County, Mass., went back to save them, but all three drowned.
Lance Cpl. Cruz was looking forward to his return home to marry his fiancee, Jackie Mass, whom he had met in high school.
"He wanted to make a family," his mother said. And he wanted to make his family and Camden, where he was born and raised, proud.
"He had fire," his aunt Maribel Reyes said. "He came from a poor family and a messed-up city, but he wanted to show everyone that he could make it."
Lance Cpl. Cruz graduated in 2007 from Camden County Vocational-Technical High School in Gloucester Township.
He was described as the peacemaker in the family, who loved to joke and laugh with everyone.
Lance Cpl. Cruz stood 5-foot-6 and always maintained a thin figure. "He was a little man . . . but he had a big heart," Reyes said.
After joining the Marines, Lance Cpl. Cruz was stationed in Norfolk, Va. He was scheduled to return there after the security detail in Cuba.
His plan was to be in the Marines for at least five years, his family said.
In addition to his mother, Lance Cpl. Cruz is survived by his father, Herminio Febres; brothers Herminio Febres Jr. and Christopher Cruz; and sister Tiffany Febres.
A viewing and funeral will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at May Funeral Home, 4522 Westfield Ave., Pennsauken. Burial will be at 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 16, at Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery, Arneytown.
Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.