Oakley community rallies around injured soldier
By Lou Fancher
A community is often measured by how it responds to people in need. A family establishes its reputation through the behavior of its members.
By many accounts, people in and around Oakley and the Marcel family measure up to lofty levels of compassion and contribution.
Learning that one of its own, SSG Joseph Marcel, a U.S. Army airborne medic for the 10th Mountain Division, was undergoing surgery in New York to lessen the impact of irreversible spinal damage caused by leaping from helicopters to serve fellow soldiers, 305 "likes," 179 "shares" and more than 50 comments on a news outlet's Facebook page appeared in a matter of hours.
A call for people to send free e-cards from the brother of the 28-year-old Class of 2005 Oakley Freedom High graduate, drew an equal response.
"We've had messages from church, from neighbors, schools, friends, strangers and others," says Eddie Marcel. "I wanted the community to connect with him on a personal level. I want him to know how much he means to people he grew up with." The idea for sending e-cards began with his mom, Cynthia Marcel. The e-cards can be sent without giving personal information and will be read to Marcel by hospital staff where he is recovering after undergoing a four-hour surgery on May 7.
"I have six children -- four boys and two girls -- and I wanted them to email Joey," she says. "When Eddie extended it out with a Facebook post -- oh, we just are so encouraged by the community. They jumped to support him. Whole classrooms are making cards and sending them."
Indeed, Nancy Mauri, Antioch, a teacher, Girl Scout leader and mother of an active duty son, posted a request on Facebook: "Is there a way to send cards from students and Scouts (not just e-cards)? I would love to get kids involved and send some "real old-fashioned" cards. Also, I would like to thank him for his service.
"I appreciate his sacrifice and the sacrifice of his loved ones. All that stand behind him have served as well. Hoping for a quick recover from surgery for him."
Although the Marcel family expect their son to recover from the surgery, they know that life for the prior athlete whose dream had long been to work in the medical field has been forever changed by his three tours of duty.
A recipient of the Medal of Valor for rescuing pilots in 2011 during his second deployment to Afghanistan and honored for his service to the country by the Oakley City Council in 2013, the married father of three children under the age of 11 has sustained extensive debilitating injuries.
"Over the last year-and-a-half, he's had surgeries on his lower back to repair nerves and try to restore feeling to his left leg," Marcel's mother says.
"He's been using a walker, but then his right arm started to go numb. That's when they found the neck injuries that required this latest surgery."
Because Iraq and Afghanistan are mountainous countries, she says the helicopters often couldn't land.
To reach soldiers in need of medical care, Marcel repeatedly jumped from a considerable height to the ground while wearing a 100-pound pack filled with equipment.
"One time he broke his leg, another time a bomb went off and blew him against a rocky wall, he had two arm fractures, broken fingers....
"They say the jumps tore away at his spine and it gave out," she says.
But it didn't tear away his desire to continue serving. With his future in the military indeterminate, but likely headed for a medical discharge, his family says he's a certified EMT and has talked about teaching once his health is under control.
His mother says that the events of 9-11 and a childhood desire to care for animals and people that extended into adulthood led Marcel to enlist in 2006. His brother says the Army provided Marcel with "an avenue to chase his dreams."
Together, they say Joey is a wounded warrior like so many others. To those people reaching out, dropping him a line, sending e-cards, the Marcels say, simply, "Thank you."