NEW YORK --
April 30, 2011 marked a special occasion for New York City to leave a lasting memorial to an incredible Marine at the very street where he grew up.
Family members of Sgt Merlin German, elected officials, clergy, and friends gathered at Washington Heights to celebrate the renaming of the southwest corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 189th West Street to Sgt. Merlin German Way.
“Let’s take this day as a celebration of Merlin’s life, not a memorialization,” said Norma Guerra, the Executive Director of “Merlin’s Miracles.” “This is what Merlin would have wanted.”
Friends, family and Marines alike all remembered German as a witty jokester, positive, and tenaciously determined, even after the attack he suffered in Iraq in February 2005.
The roadside bomb inflicted burns to over 97 percent of German’s body, all but leaving the top of his head, a part of his shoulder and the soles of his feet untouched. It was a miracle that he survived the injury, yet alone lived to tell the tale. Despite his physical, mental and emotional struggles, German always made his rounds to motivate fellow brothers and sisters in arms during his treatment and rehabilitation period at the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
"Sometimes I do think I can't do it," German said once during an Associated Press interview. "Then I think: Why not? I can do whatever I want."
German’s no-nonsense humor, fashion sense and entrepreneurial skills were utilized to design a T-shirt while he was at Brooke. 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." Option "d" was German’s choice.
After conquering three years and more than 100 surgical procedures, German died April 11, 2008 at the age of 22. Before his death, German founded a charity called “Merlin’s Miracles” to help child burn victims have a better quality of life through toys, necessities, or trips to dream destinations such as Disney World. Through his generosity, German left a lasting legacy for future generations.
“Merlin was born many years ago during a difficult time in this community,” said New York Senator Adriano Espaillat. “He could have been irresponsible with his family, but he chose to join the United States Marine Corps. What a great American! The United States Marine Corps has a theme: 'Always Faithful' and I think that’s the script of Merlin’s life. He was always faithful to the Marine Corps and to the community. He is one of us and he sacrificed his life. What a great American.”
Lourdes German is proud of her son’s accomplishments. She always knew her son was going to serve in the military and she was proud to find out that her son was a Marine after he enlisted.
“I love and adore the Marines,” said Lourdes. “They’ve been exceptional throughout this whole process—when it happened, after it happened, and when he was no longer with us. Every time I see that uniform I get so excited. I’m so grateful that my son is a Marine because as my son would say, ‘the Marines are the toughest ones.’” Lourdes chuckled as she reminisced.
“When Merlin was in the hospital, I remember this one time,” reflected Lourdes. “It was five o’clock in the evening and they were bringing down the flag. Merlin looked out the window as they were bringing down the flag and he told me, ‘Mom, for that flag I’ll die.’”
When German did ultimately died, he left a legacy of helping others as New York City's "Miracle Marine."