The Miracle Marine
May 25, 2008 1 Comment
Cpl. Merlin German was injured so badly by a roadside bomb in Iraq he was rushed back to the United States so his family could have a chance to say goodbye. 97% of his body was covered in burns but he defied the odds and slowly began the long process of recovery and rehabilitation.
People started calling him the “Miracle Marine.”
The Associated Press reports on May 25, 2008:
At Brooke [Army Medical Center], he designed a T-shirt that he sometimes sold, sometimes gave away. On the front it read: “Got 3 percent chance of survival, what ya gonna do?” The back read, “A) Fight Through, b) Stay Strong, c) Overcome Because I Am a Warrior, d) All Of The Above.” D is circled.
His recovery became legendary:
“Early on, he thought, ‘This is ridiculous. Why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard?'” Renz recalls. “But every month or so, he’d say, ‘I’ve licked it.’ … He was amazingly positive overall. … He never complained. He’d just dig in and do it.”
Slowly, his determination paid off. He made enormous progress.
From a ventilator to breathing on his own.
From communicating with his eyes or a nod to talking.
From being confined to a hospital isolation bed with his arms and legs suspended – so his skin grafts would take – to moving into his own house and sleeping in his own bed.
And he began counseling other patients with similar injuries:
German, in turn, was asked by hospital staff to motivate other burn patients when they were down or just not interested in therapy.
“I’d say, ‘Hey, can you talk to this patient?’ … Merlin would come in … and it was: Problem solved,” says Elder, the therapist. “The thing about him was there wasn’t anything in the burn world that he hadn’t been through. Nobody could say to him, ‘You don’t understand.'”
German understood, too, that burn patients deal with issues outside the hospital because of the way they look.
One could surmise he never would have been so callous as to refer to an extensive burn injury as an “issue” about “the way they look.” Trauma and despair, perhaps, or any other word that would honor the extent of the sacrifice for this country, anything besides minimizing it as an “issue.”
Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich recalls a day in 2006 when he stopped by German’s room and noticed he was crying softly. Olbrich, who heads a Marine patient affairs team at Brooke, says he sat with him awhile and asked: “What are you scared of?’ He said, ‘I’m afraid there will never be a woman who loves me.’ “
Olbrich says that was the lowest he ever saw German, but even then “he didn’t give up. … He was unstoppable.”
To call him a hero isn’t nearly enough.
When the hospital’s Holiday Ball approached in 2006, German told Norma Guerra he wanted to surprise his mother by taking her for a twirl on the dance floor.
Guerra thought he was kidding. She knew it could be agony for him just to take a short walk or raise a scarred arm.
But she agreed to help, and they rehearsed for months, without his mother knowing. He chose a love song to be played for the dance: “Have I Told You Lately?” by Rod Stewart.
That night he donned his Marine dress blues and shiny black shoes – even though it hurt to wear them. When the time came, he took his mother in his arms and they glided across the dance floor.
Everyone stood and applauded. And everyone cried.
Clearly, it seemed, the courageous Marine was winning his long, hard battle.
“Some of the folks we lose – the fight to get better is too much,” Elder says. “But Merlin always came back. He had been through so much, but it was automatic. … Merlin will be fine tomorrow. He’ll be back in the game. That’s what we always thought.”
At age 22, he died during a routine surgery.
Before his death, he created a charitable foundation for children with burn injuries, called Merlin’s Miracles, where donations are accepted and this shirt can be purchased: