DADE CITY — Norman "Ehren" Murburg's family has been waiting for three months to find out why he died. The darkness of not knowing has been awful at times. His death made no sense.
He was 20 years old — 6-feet- 4 and all muscle — and working to fulfill a dream of becoming a Green Beret.
Murburg, who tested the highest in his Army class in physical fitness, quit college a year ago because he felt a calling to enlist. He saw his fellow students at the University of Florida as talking about helping the world but not really doing it. He wanted to help, first-hand, not in several years, but now. He wanted to be a military doctor, so he could save lives in the field.
His family says the Army made him the man he always wanted to be.
Instead of becoming hardened, he became more open.
He wasn't sullen or angry any more, as he had been.
He appreciated life and the people he loved.
In the biography he wrote for Special Forces, one of the questions asked him of his proudest accomplishment and then also asked of his biggest mistake — and what he learned from it. Murburg, who grew up in Dade City and graduated from Pasco High School, wrote that his proudest moment was being there — and that he wasn't trying to kiss up or anything, but it was sincere. "So far it has been a journey worth every bit of my blood, sweat and tears."
His biggest mistake, he said, was not listening more to his father — an understanding many people don't reach until much later in life.
"No one else has helped me more than him," he wrote. "I wish I just showed him more appreciation."
He called his dad, Mike Murburg, often for advice and wasn't scared to tell him he loved him.
Then, in early June, Murburg and other Green Beret candidates set off for a 10-hour training exam near Fort Bragg, N.C. They were left in the woods, with only a map and compass and had to reach certain targets. When Murburg didn't check in at a post at midday on June 9, a search by 500 soldiers began.
They looked for him that day and night and found his body the next morning. He had not used his emergency equipment and he had water in his canteens.
And, until Monday night, that is all Murburg's family knew about his death.
The Army's investigation is now closed. Mike Murburg said this is what he was told:
His son died from two bites from a young, male cottonmouth water moccasin. A spotter saw Murburg about 30 minutes before his estimated time of death and he seemed fine and was on course.
In recreating that last half-hour, Army investigators surmise that Murburg followed his compass down a wooded hill and took off his 80-pound pack, possibly to change his uniform, as it was impossibly hot that day. The dirt around his pack looked as though things had been taken out but then repacked; which is how the Army found it.
There is water at the base of the hill and investigators believe that the snake must have come from there — maybe threatened by the presence of the big man and all of the sounds of unpacking and packing — and bit the top of his left hand twice.
A 13-month old, 39-inch male water moccasin with drained venom sacks was later found and killed.
After being bitten, Murburg went back up the hill because it was close to a road, which was what he was trained to do so he could be found quickly. He sat down in the shade of a pine tree and surely was just about to trigger his GPS signal when he died.
The Army has not issued a release with this information Tuesday, as they give family members 24 hours after notifying them.
Mike and his daughter, Erica Murburg, were told Monday night. But his mom, Karen, was notified Tuesday.
Erica Murburg mourns her brother every day, but only cries alone. She cried on her way to work Tuesday morning.
Her dad, Mike, didn't sleep after being notified Monday night. By Tuesday evening, he thought he might be able to get some rest.
Luck is real, he said. It is good but it also is bad and random and inches might separate us from death each day, though we don't realize it.
At first, he wanted to die along with his son. Then he was angry and bitter but he's not any longer. He has learned that he could be swallowed up in his grief or he could fight with everything in him to live and to help others. He hopes there is another side to this life and that when he dies, his son will be there.
"He will be the first soul I seek to find," he said. "No matter what it takes."
He dreams of wrapping his son in a fierce, tight hug. "I love you," he'll whisper. "And I am so proud of you."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.