Age 87 Marine Who Survived COVID-19 Credits His Service for Instilling Toughness


Franklin Eller is the kind of man who’s a great breath of fresh air at a time many of us aren’t breathing much fresh air.

Eller is an 87-year-old retired Marine who is one of the oldest known survivors of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also going viral because of the fact that he’s talking about how the “Corps trains us to deal with adversity.”

According to WXIA-TV, the San Diego resident was released from Mayaguez Medical Center in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Eller was diagnosed after being in one of the environments where COVID-19 has bred: a cruise ship.

“I’m feeling great. And I was very fortunate to find myself laying here at the Mayaguez Medical Center,” Eller told CBS News’ David Begnaud earlier in the week.

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“As you may know, I was evacuated from a ship; we were on a cruise in the Caribbean. And I was feeling pretty lousy about six days into a 14-day cruise. So I kinda let it go, and it kept getting worse and worse, and I had trouble breathing and I couldn’t walk very far. So finally on the third day, my wife convinced me to go down to the medical center. I checked in there; they saw I was in pretty bad shape, they did all the tests they could do; they didn’t have any of the virus tests.”

Then Eller saw the X-rays.

“Both lungs were just practically black and filled with infection,” he said.

Eller — who served in the Marines for 25 years, including two tours of Vietnam — was evacuated from the ship by helicopter and admitted to Mayaguez Medical Center.

“I have to say that I saw his chest X-ray from the cruise, and from that moment I knew that we were not dealing with a common pneumonia process. So that’s why we treated this patient from day one as a possible COVID-19 patient,” Dr. Monica Egozcue told Begnaud.

“When a patient has pneumonia, the findings on X-rays are called infiltrates,” she said. “So his infiltrates on the chest X-ray were more central, what we call perihilar. That’s not usual in pneumonia. Pneumonia usually affects a certain part of the lungs either the upper zone or the lower one. Infiltrates were located in the central part of the lungs, which is not common in the pneumonia process.

“So at that moment we had high suspicion plus his white blood cells were elevated, however, he had lymphodemia, which is found in these types of patients. … He was treated always like a COVID-19 case.”

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Eller survived, part of which he attributed to his time in the service.

“I really owe my recovery to four things,” he said.

“First of all, the Marine Corps trains us Marines to deal with adversity. They teach us to adapt, overcome and continue the mission. That’s what I’ve tried to do every time I’ve encountered an adverse condition in my life, and with two tours in Vietnam plus other national emergencies that the Marines responded to, I feel that I can speak on the subject of adversity.

“The second one is my wife and my family back in San Diego in Humboldt County, California, for their love and support.

“Of course, we could not have done it without the hospital’s outstanding efforts.

“And finally, the grace of God. That’s what I have here.”

God bless you, Franklin Eller.

Eller is in the group most at risk here: He’s 87 with multiple health conditions. “I have emphysema, I have heart disease, I have a leaky heart valve in one lung, I have peripheral neuropathy and I have an irregular heartbeat,” he said.

And yet, he hung on.

This man exudes an energy. He’s given to his country and now he’s giving us all hope in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Even if the service toughened him up, we can’t say that he didn’t bring some mettle of his own to the equation — and that was from the grace of God.

Our hats are off to you, Mr. Eller. Here’s hoping for a lot more time for you.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture