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Army (and Boston) Strong: Colonel awarded for heroism at marathon

May. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Col. Everett Spain receives the Soldier's Medal from Maj. Gen. William Rapp, the Army's chief legislative liaison, at Boston's Harvard Business School — a year and three days after Spain's heroic actions in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Col. Everett Spain receives the Soldier's Medal from Maj. Gen. William Rapp, the Army's chief legislative liaison, at Boston's Harvard Business School — a year and three days after Spain's heroic actions in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. (Geerati Choosang/Army)
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In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, an NBC News report praised an unnamed active-duty service member who turned his shirt into a makeshift tourniquet, treating the wounded in the chaos at the finish line of the April 15, 2013, race.

A year later, still shunning publicity, Col. Everett Spain received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions that day, honored in a ceremony at Harvard Business School, from which he will graduate this month with a doctorate in management, according to the Army news release announcing the award.

“I find the attention a little uncomfortable, because I wish I could change what happened that day,” Spain said in an interview Friday.

He maintains any service members or their families would have reacted the same way he did — moving “toward the smoke,” as he put it in remarks made at the April 18 event, because of “the values deliberately imprinted on me by my faith, my family, my friends, my mentors, the many character-building institutions I’ve been privileged to be associated with, and our American spirit.”

The colonel, who also holds a Purple Heart earned in Iraq and a Ranger tab, according to the release, served as a guide in the 2013 race for Steve Sabra, a visually impaired runner who was about a football field from the finish line when the first bomb went off. After Spain made sure Sabra was safe with his family, the officer joined other first responders in assisting victims.

He tied his first of two tourniquets of the day on the leg of Ron Brassard, according to the release, then comforted Brassard’s panicked daughter until she allowed medical personnel to take her father for further treatment. His second tourniquet — crafted with a jacket and clothes hanger from a sporting-goods store — may have saved the life of a woman whom he found bleeding on the street. He would accompany a third victim, in shock after suffering severe injuries and burns, to the hospital in an ambulance.

The Brassards and five other families touched by the bombings attended the medal ceremony.

“It’s a blessing to call them our friends,” Spain said of the victims and their families. “It’s very inspiring to watch them not only be inspirers, but be conquerors.”

Back on the road

The Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest non-combat valor award. Spain, 43, said he accepted the award on behalf of all service members: “To me, the apostrophe is after the ‘s,’ ” he said.

Learning he’d received the honor from a friend in Washington a few months before the ceremony “brought back a lot of emotions, suddenly,” he recalled. Another emotional event: Running this year’s Boston Marathon alongside his wife, Julia.

It was her first full marathon, though she’d also served as a guide for Sabra for part of the 2013 race. The colonel has run about a half-dozen since first tackling the Marine Corps Marathon while a cadet at West Point.

“There is no crowd like a Boston Marathon crowd,” he said. “It’s like you’re running for freedom.”

The run also allowed Spain to put into practice a lesson he learned from recently retired Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett, who faced dozens of improvised explosive devices during his time as one of the Army’s top IED-hunters.

“He taught me to never miss a chance to hug someone and tell them you love them,” Spain said.

The colonel and his wife crossed the finish line holding hands.

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