The young Marine came back from the war, with his toughest fight ahead of him.
Sgt. Merlin German waged that battle in the quiet of a Texas hospital, far from the dusty road in Iraq where a bomb exploded, leaving him with burns over 97 percent of his body.
No one expected him to survive.
But for more than three years, he would not surrender. He endured more than 100 surgeries and procedures. He learned to live with pain, to stare at a stranger's face in the mirror. He learned to smile again, to joke, to make others laugh.
He became known as the "Miracle Man."
But just when it seemed he would defy impossible odds, German lost his last battle this spring — an unexpected final chapter in a story many imagined would have a happy ending. ...
Merlin German died after routine surgery to add skin to his lower lip.
He was already planning his next operations — on his wrists and elbows. But Renz also says with all the stress German's body had been subjected to in recent years, "it was probably an unfair expectation that you can keep doing this over and over again and not have any problems."
The cause of his death has not yet been determined.
"I may no more understand why he left us when he did than why he survived when he did," Renz says. "I don't think I was meant to know."
As people learned of his death last month, they flocked to his hospital room to pay their last respects: Doctors, nurses, therapists and others, many arriving from home, kept coming as Friday night faded into Saturday morning.
German was just 22.