OCEAN CITY – Wounded in battle halfway around the world, SPC Adam Spotanski (Ret.) was a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 2/503 Parachute Infantry Regiment.
At the Walk for the Wounded event at the historic Music Pier on Saturday morning, he was a hero.
“I’m sorry, bear with me,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I’m better with a rifle than I am with words.”
Overwhelmed by the large crowd, he said he was not a hero, but those gathered vehemently disagreed. A loud applause was followed by “Yes you are!”
“I’m a normal guy that by the grace of God made it home, and if I could go back I would,” he said. “It’s neat to see this kind of support; it reminds me that everything I went through was worth it.”
Spotanski was injured in Afghanistan in August, 2007 when serving as a sniper with his infantry. He was standing on a 30-foot tower when a rocket-propelled grenade hit. He fell and was impaled by a six-foot pole. He spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
His comrade, SPC Sean Langevin saved his life; three months later Langevin was killed in action. Of the 35 men in his platoon, 26 were killed in action. The 173rd Airborne 2/503 was featured in the book “War” by Sebastian Junger and the National Geographic documentary “Restrepo.”
The third annual Walk for the Wounded, sponsored by Ocean City Home Bank with the help of local businesses, raised over $57,000 for Operation First Response, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to wounded soldiers and their families. Since its founding by Peggy Baker, a soldier’s mother in 2004, OFR has raised over $2 million. Of every dollar raised, 90 cents goes directly to those in need.
“Without OFR I would not be here right now,” Spotanski said. “No way. Every time I called Peggy needing something, with a hell-bent attitude she said ‘you’ll get the help you need’ and I did.
“Without OFR, I know where I would have ended up, in prison or dead,” he added. “It’s hard for the guys that get hurt.”
Arriving stateside after an injury, soldiers are in limbo as they heal from life-changing injuries. Freeing him from everyday stress allowed Spotanski to focus on recovery.
“I’m a realist. I don’t need a baseball game or a fishing trip, I need help,” he said. “I’m not going to let my injuries shape me for the next 50 years and I’m not going to live off of them.”
Corporal Todd Simpson Love, a Marine in the 1st Recon Battalion, B Co. was point man on a foot patrol on the morning of Oct. 25, 2010 when he stepped on an IED. He lost both of his legs, and ultimately his left arm in the resulting explosion.
He underwent numerous surgeries and a long recovery as he began the process of adapting to his new life as a triple amputee. Love thanked the large crowd and OFR for everything they had done for him. He also thanked the large contingency of veterans in the audience.
Spotanski reminded the crowd that he “lost a lot of friends.” Death, and injuries like he and Love experienced, are “the cost of freedom,” he said.
Baker started OFR in 2004 after a friend’s son lost his leg in combat. OFR volunteers visit military hospitals, providing moral support to wounded soldiers and their families; they assist with airline flights, lodging and meals, provide transportation and help with groceries or paying bills. OFR coordinates with other groups and charities.
“We have no time clock,” said Baker. “We never know what we are facing each day. The past seven years has been the greatest journey of my life, a journey filled with miracles and inspiration. I can’t even put it into words.”
Baker’s son joined the Army after terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. She started OFR after her friend’s son was injured and she realized that there was a huge gap in care.
“When a soldier leaves the military with a medical and joins the VA, they have no income, no money,” she said. “Their spouse can’t work because they have to take care of the soldier, their life dissolves pretty quickly. We serve as a bridge.
“The struggle they go through every day is something we can’t imagine yet they have the most amazing attitudes. It puts a whole new perspective on a bad day. I feel like all these soldiers are my kids.”
OFR has touched over 7,000 young heroes who took a selfless vow to “defend this country,” she noted.
“America rose up after 9/11,” she said. “My son taught me a lesson, what giving of yourself truly represents. The flag represents more than cloth blowing in the breeze. It represents America’s finest.”
The military, she noted, takes a young man or woman who “yesterday couldn’t make their bed” and turns them into a warrior willing to lay down their life for their country.
“Life continues on, they can still triumph in adversity if they don’t give up,” she said. “Not one of these soldiers comes back the same person.”
Phil Martelli, head coach for the St. Joseph’s men’s basketball team and emcee for the event, said he was deeply moved by the two young soldiers and OFR.
“If you didn’t just tear up, get your pulse checked because you are dead,” he said. “This is what the Delaware Valley is all about. Helping kids you’ll probably never meet, but when you put your head down on the pillow you know you ‘done good.’ Put that veteran who you’re walking for in your heart and your mind as you walk. God Bless America.”
After the ceremony, the crowd followed a military honor guard down the Boardwalk for a three mile walk.
Resident Dick Mathers, a veteran of the Korean War, said he was proud of the two young marines.
“It never leaves you,” said Mathers. In 1953 the Army engineer was on the front line, face-to-face with the enemy. By “the grace of God” the enemy’s guns wouldn’t fire, he said.
“If they fired, we’d have been dead,” he said, wiping tears. “God was with us. It was a miracle.”
Linda Carter’s son Dan, a Marine just returned from Afghanistan, is scheduled to go back next year. She and her husband Bob participated for the first time.
“Until you are involved, with a child going to war, you don’t get it,” said Carter. “You can’t understand. You want people to understand the plight of these guys. I’m overwhelmed, so impressed with these young men. OFR is a wonderful organization. This was our first walk and surely won’t be our last. Organizations like OFR are few and far between. They truly appreciate our military heroes.