Today marks the 7th anniversary of the day that Lt Col. John C. Spahr, USMC died over the skies of Iraq. Called "Dukes" by his squadron mates for his John Wayne imitations, Lt Col Spahr served his country by flying the F/A-18 Hornet , He was assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 323, Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Aircraft Wing (VMFA-323) , Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. His unit was embarked aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson (CVN-70).
John was not only a good Marine, he was a good man. He, like me, grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ, and graduated St Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia. Unlike me, he lettered in four sports at "The Prep": he quaterbacked the football team, he played forward for the basketball team, played baseball, and was a National Schoolboy Singles Rowing Champion on the crew team.
John went on to play football at University of Delaware, was graduated with Bachelor and Master degrees, and chose to work with developmentally disabled children. His true calling however, was to become a Marine Corps aviator. John went to Officer's Candidate School, was commissioned, graduated The Basic School, and won his gold wings at NAS Pensacola.
John was no slouch as an aviator. He graduated from and instructed at United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (SFTI program), more popularly known as TOPGUN. He flew off the USS Constellation (CV-64) and was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2004. That's when I reconnected with him.
As a teenager, John was an exceptional athlete--I wasn't. He and I commuted from Cherry Hill, to high school in Philadelphia together, and while I was a sophomore on the crew team, John was the BMOC (and a senior), winning singles's races every week. Naturally, I looked up to John and wanted to follow in his footsteps. I never really reach the heights of success he did in rowing but you'd never know it from John. Even while he was at the University of Delaware, he'd call or make trips to watch me (and the rest of the Prep Crew) compete in the Spring.
I particularly remember one championships race. I was to scull the "practice single" (or "gig for you who remember) and was feeling a tad bit inferior. John drove up from University of Delaware to cheer the team on. I remember him pulling me aside and questioning my commitment to the race. When I complained that I wasn't good enough to compete in the varsity single race, John immediately went into pep talk mode. He questioned my character, commitment, and attitude. He told me not only to compete hard but to win the race. Naturally, when I pulled into the dock, and was awarded the gold medal, behind my father and smiling coach (the late, great Gus Ignas), stood John Spahr, shaking his head and smirking.
"Don't ever doubt yourself again", said John. To this day, I rarely do.
When I read about John in the U-T, in 2005, I asked a couple of Marine aviators (whom I saw at the post office) if he might contact me. The next day, the phone rang. John was stationed at MCAS Miramar and had a young daughter. He was excited to catch up at a BBQ when he returned from a "quick deployment to Iraq".
My father called me a few days after he was killed, to break the bad news; John was dead. There would be no reunion. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetary and a special service was held for him at the Chapel at Miramar.
I saw his family at that service. I saw his comrades-in-arms at that service. I prayed for the repose of John's eternal soul at that service...but I never got to tell him what I wanted to tell him--
"John...you had a big impact on my life." I miss him.