Red Cross Hero: Military

Spencer DeTurk

From one war veteran to another, it's a reminder of home. A Pennsylvania state flag has seen combat, flying in Vietnam and then Iraq, with one father and one son.

"Spencer was a funny kid, a fun loving kid who had lots of friends and loved sports," said military mom Sue DeTurk, talking about her son and what he was like as a child.

Spencer DeTurk graduated from Kutztown High School and Millersville University, but he just wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. With no set career plans, he was looking for an alternative and for direction.

"One day, he went down to Lancaster and he signed up and that was it," Sue explained.

Spencer had joined the Army.

"He shocked me when he joined the military," said his father, Jeff. "He was in the infantry, went to Korea for a year, and then, of course, wound up in Iraq."

Military service was in the family. Spencer came from a long line of veterans who were in the Navy and Air Force. Spencer's father served nearly three years in Vietnam as part of the Army Security Agency. He flew missions over enemy territory.

When Spencer signed up, it was the fall of 2003. We had just witnessed the Battle of Baghdad in Iraq. After boot camp, he was deployed to South Korea.

"I was actually pretty upset," Spencer recalled. "I think probably most dumb kids think that it's pretty cool to go to war, and I think I was probably in that same situation.

He's honest now about the illusion of war. He's been through it.

In 2005, Spencer was deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne, 2nd Battalion in an infantry/mortar platoon.
Spencer was a specialist, and while in Iraq, promoted to corporal and eventually sergeant based in Kirkuk.

"We had been out on dozens and dozens, probably hundreds of missions by that point in time because we were going out several times a day," Spencer explained.

It was almost Christmas, December 20, and his unit was providing security for the Army Corps of Engineers. They were out on an ASR, an alternate supply route, filling in craters left by IEDs.

"We drove south that day in the general direction to Krit," Spencer recalled. "I think we had went to the farthest point and we were kinda working our way back."

Five soldiers and an interpreter were in their HUMM-V when Specialist Zach Foote got out to walk. Spencer got out to walk with him. The humvee went around them and drove ahead.

"I thought I saw an artillery round on the side of the road, so I was kinda walking toward that, and that's when I heard the explosion," Spencer said. "I turned around and I saw the truck in the air, kind of flipping backwards, and I remember saying to Foote, I said, 'You know who's truck is that? What just happened.' It was shocking. He said, 'Dude, that's your truck.'"

It had been hit by a roadside bomb. Two of the soldiers were able to get out on their own, but the gunner was in the turret, pinned underneath it. The driver was unconscious. Without any regard for his own life, and now under withering fire, Spencer and his fellow soldiers pulled them out.

The bomb had blown off Specialist James Stuck's right leg just below the knee. Spencer placed a tourniquet around it, and Stuck came to. Gunner Justin Leon, who was pinned under the six-ton armored truck, would eventually lose his arm. Both soldiers were flown to safety that day.

"I just think about it in as positive a way as you can and that those are the things that happen in war, and those are the real life situations that cause you to think back to when you thought it would be cool to go to war and make you realize that that was an illusion," Spencer said. "There are countless people that day that saved Stuck and Leon's life. and I was just doing what anyone would have done in that situation. Those are your friends. Those are your fellow soldiers."

"It's been some of the proudest moments of our life what he's accomplished, and he's been doing quite well at East Penn [Manufacturing], too, so we're extremely proud of him," Jeff said. "I get emotional when I think of it. Very, very proud of him."

Spencer returned home in 2006 with the state flag, and he's back in Berks County now, working for East Penn Manufacturing.

Spencer will be recognized as an American Red Cross military hero during the annual Berks County Heroes breakfast on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing. You can buy tickets online or by calling the Red Cross in Reading at 610-375-4383.

Other heroes who will be honored at the breakfast are in the categories of law enforcement, fire, medical, 911 dispatch, adult good Samaritan, youth good Samaritan, animal rescue, and community impact.

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