At the funeral Friday, the minister told hundreds who had come to mourn the loss of Joshua James Markel that they must accept what happens, even when they have no answers.
Jim Markel didn’t seem to be lacking for an answer as he sat at his kitchen table in northwest Lincoln the previous night.
“My son fought in numerous deployments,” the grieving father said, “but he was not killed on the battlefield. He was killed by the battles that raged in his mind.”
The younger Markel, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a point man on patrols with Fox Company, 2nd Regiment, 7th Marines, was discharged in 2009.
The 25-year-old shot and killed himself Saturday night at his Lincoln apartment.
“He was a good, loving man,” said his mother, Patti, “and he loved his family. He was always, always there for everybody.”
His parents and his mom's brother, Jeff Tuder, also described him as a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder.
And he wasn't alone in his difficulties. The military has said an average of 18 veterans commit suicide every day.
Josh Markel was enlisted in the Marines by the time he graduated from Lincoln North Star High School in 2005. He spent eight months in Iraq and nine after that in Afghanistan.
Tuder recalled a phone conversation with Josh just before he went on a patrol in Afghanistan.
He had severe bronchitis and said he thought he’d broken his foot. But he rejected a suggestion that he skip his latest foray onto hostile turf about as quickly as Tuder got the words out of his mouth.
“My unit would just be short one man,” he told his uncle. “And if I don’t go, and we’re short one man and something happens, I would never forgive myself.”
* * *
Jim Markel had a couple of beers with Josh on Saturday afternoon before his son went home to watch the Ohio State game with friends.
At some point, his attention apparently drifted from the game to thoughts he no longer could endure.
One of the friends said he seemed to shut down. His facial expression became a blank stare.
His family had no trouble thinking of where his mind might have gone. He wouldn’t have been dwelling on the new pickup he bought a few weeks ago or the job he was about to start with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
While on duty in Afghanistan, Patti Markel said, an explosion rocked the Humvee in which Josh and another Marine were riding.
Her son held a dying man in his arms for 45 minutes, waiting for the helicopter that didn’t get there in time.
In a separate incident, a fellow Marine intending to rest beside the road sat on an IED. His friends literally had to pick up the pieces of the body.
About a year ago, Josh Markel was one of the first guards at the Nebraska State Penitentiary to respond to a situation in which one inmate stabbed and killed another.
Along the way, a counseling session with the Veterans Administration and several others in a private-sector setting in Lincoln did not resolve his mental torment.
A week ago, “for some reason, something struck him,” Patti Markel said of a situation that brought Lincoln police officers to her door at 1:30 a.m. “And he made that decision.”
* * *
At St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on Friday morning, two Marines in dress blues and white gloves marched down the aisle shortly before 11 and took up positions on either side of the urn that held Josh Markel’s ashes.
The Rev. Wayne Alloway asked the family and those who came to support them to bow their heads as he turned to God.
“You know the answer to things we are barely able to shape into questions,” Alloway said.
Jeff Tuder stepped into the pulpit to speak for those who knew Josh best. He called it the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life and had to pause several times to gather himself.
“Josh never had an acquaintance,” he said. “He only had friends.”
Laughter and mischief defined him growing up.
“I never will forget him teaching my kids to drive -- at age 7.”
When he lost a bet to Marine friends on the Texas-Nebraska game, he was supposed to run around the campground naked. But he stopped to talk along the way.
“He was indeed a rare breed, and we will forever miss him.”
The slide show that followed traced Josh’s life from chubby-cheeked baby to the point when he stood a half head taller than his dad.
There were pictures of him kissing a fish, clutching and kissing surprised male friends on the cheek, and of a rugged outdoorsman kneeling with Jim Markel and a deer they bagged on a hunting trip.
Pictures with his wife, Ashley Schulz Markel, whom he married in 2010. Pictures from combat settings with his usual smile missing.
“She did feel they were having some issues,” Patti Markel said of Ashley during the kitchen-table discussion. “And the issues were from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Heavy drinking was part of the pattern after his discharge in 2009.
“To tell the truth,” said Jim Markel, “he was basically self-medicating himself a lot with you know what.”
* * *
The Rev. Alloway said Friday was no day for guilt, for second guesses.
“But no one could have prevented Josh’s death,” he said. “No one.”
He suffered from a disease he was powerless to control, and he never meant to hurt those he loved when he went to his room and shut the door.
“We can give Josh one last gift of love,” Alloway said, “the gift of forgiveness.”