Mystery illness kills Missouri soldier
Josh Neusche died Saturday; his family waits for answers.
By Eric Eckert
07/16/03: Montreal, Mo. — Seventeen-year-old Jacob Neusche spent Tuesday morning packing up his big brother's belongings — books, a high school letterman's jacket and a Class A uniform.
"That's what Josh will be buried in," the teenager said, referring to the uniform.
Missouri National Guard Spc. Josh Neusche, 20, died Saturday at the Homburg Hospital in Germany from a mysterious illness. A member of the 203rd Engineer Battalion, he is the only Missouri National Guardsman on the Department of Defense's casualty list.
Family and friends are awaiting the soldier's body, scheduled to arrive Thursday in the United States.
They are also waiting for autopsy results, and his parents, Mark and Cindy Neusche, are calling for an investigation.
"He's always been healthy," Mark Neusche said. "Hell, he's a cross-country runner. There's no reason for a boy of his health to deteriorate so quickly."
Cindy Neusche said her son collapsed July 2 while in Baghdad and was transported to Germany. Doctors there told the family they believed Josh suffered from pneumonia due to fluid that had collected on his lungs. But then his liver, kidneys and muscles started to break down, his mother said.
"They were doing some things there, trying to get his kidneys flushed out," she said through tears. "They told us his potassium levels came up so far and he needed to go on dialysis."
The Neusches traveled to Germany Friday to be with their son. When they arrived, they found him in a drug-induced coma. The grief-stricken couple weren't able to talk with their boy, but they believe he knew they were there.
"In our hearts, we felt he heard us," said Cindy Neusche. "You could tell by the machines he was on. His heart rate got faster when we talked to him."
Josh Neusche died the next day.
Doctors and family members are still befuddled by the strange illness. There's got to be an explanation, Mark Neusche said. He prays the hospital's autopsy will reveal the cause.
"I know the doctor over in Germany said he got into some type of toxin," Mark Neusche said. "Several soldiers were in similar conditions while we were there."
So far there has been no hint of an official inquiry.
"That's not under investigation," said U.S. Army Spokesman, Lt. Col. Jeff Keane, from Virginia.
"To my knowledge, we've not been asked to do that (investigate)," added Whitney Frost, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton.
Meanwhile, friends and family have been reminiscing about their loved one.
"I lost the person I looked up to the most," Jacob Neusche said of his brother. "I guess now the role I'll have to step into is caring for my mother and dad. My brother always did that."
Friends remembered how Josh loved to play his trombone, his reign as Camdenton High School's 2002 prom king and his penchant for mathematics.
"He was a tutor for little kids," said friend Danny Pacholski. "The guy was a genius at math. ... It's really heartbreaking that this happened. We were always supposed to grow up with each other."
Josh's high school sweetheart, Krissy Lewis, said he lived his 20 years to the fullest. The couple broke up after high school, but stayed close friends.
"He was the most outgoing person I'd ever met," Lewis said, adding that friends have been consoling each other since they learned of the death. "One moment, I'm OK and then it hits me that I've lost the first love of my life."
Josh joined the National Guard in high school. When he was activated in March, the young man was enrolled at Southwest Missouri State University as a freshman.
He was taking general-education courses and had been dating fellow student Layne Clark for eight months. Clark, 19, said she and Josh talked many times about getting married.
"We met at college through a friend of ours," Clark said Tuesday. "We loved to go dancing. We saw a lot of movies and we enjoyed just being together — doing nothing."
Clark said the young soldier believed in his mission.
"He was so proud to serve his country. He thought this was the right thing to do and he wanted to do it. He was the most courageous man I'd ever known."
On Sunday — the day after learning of Josh's death — Clark received a two-page letter from her boyfriend; it was postmarked June 30.
"He just told me that everything was going all right and he'd be home soon."
Copyright © 2003, The Springfield News-Leader
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