SAN ANTONIO — Inside the sanctuary it feels bare and clean, the walls and high, arched ceiling white and seamless, washing turmoil from your mind and soul. It is a quiet blankness.
On Thursday morning, hundreds of mourners sat in the wood pews of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in San Antonio. They were there for the funeral of Norman "Ehren" Murburg III, a 20-year-old Green Beret candidate who died last week during special operations training near Fort Bragg, N.C.
Murburg — a 6-foot, 4-inch chiseled Adonis with blond hair and green eyes — grew up in Dade City and graduated from Pasco High School in 2005. He wanted to join the military but instead went to college, as was expected in his educated family — his father, Michael Murburg, is an attorney and his sister, Erica Murburg, 22, will soon be attending law school.
He studied psychology, film and anthropology at the University of Florida and joined a fraternity.
But Murburg wasn't happy and, at the beginning of his sophomore year last fall, he dropped out and enlisted in the Army without consulting his family first. They were upset, but also proud of him. This was his purpose and his dream and he had the guts to change course, to go against the predictable current and take the leap he felt called to him.
And there, in the military, Murburg found peace and strength. He changed in the way people do when they know they are fulfilling their purpose. Erica said the Army made her brother into the man he always wanted to be, but didn't know how. After years of being withdrawn because of his parents' divorce, Murburg opened again — he wanted to be part of the family and called and cared.
Last week, he and other Green Beret candidates set off for a 10-hour training exam. They would be 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 midday on June 9, a massive 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. The Army is investigating his death and won't have results for at least a month, if not more. Murburg's father spoke at the funeral and said, from what he heard, his son died quickly and without pain.
"We hope that is the case," said Maj. Sonny Leggett, of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. "His family is in our thoughts."
The Army sent several soldiers to the service. Some were Green Berets, what Murburg wanted to be more than anything. Speaking at the end of the service, Murburg's father tried to make sense of his son dying so soon after doing what he always wanted.
But maybe that's the point we're supposed to take, he said. His son died doing what he loved and what he believed God wanted him to do. He died, his father said, in the process of becoming a better man, an education that is unending.
"Live your life," Michael Murburg said, his voice firm now from trembling before at the beginning of his eulogy. He said each word slowly, with emotion. "Live your life."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.