As a little kid, Spencer Collart would sometimes break into “a wild dance” and patter his feet all over the room, his father, Bart, recalled. His younger sister would call it his “Happy Feet” dance.
As a young man, Spencer Collart became a Marine with a sometimes-tough exterior, but he never lost his goofy side, his family told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.
Collart, a corporal, was one of three Marines who lost their lives after their MV-22 Osprey crashed off the coast of Darwin, Australia, on Sunday. Three more were badly injured, with one in critical condition as of Tuesday, according to the Marine Corps.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, the Marine Corps said.
Collart’s family members said they are devasted by his loss. They’re also deeply proud of him.
“We all feel Spencer’s presence with us, which is really comforting,” Bart Collart said. “We don’t want to be too sad, because he’s here in a different way.”
“And also, we know he was happy,” Alexia Collart, Spencer’s mother, said.
A native of Arlington, Virginia, Spencer Collart was precocious, reading the “Harry Potter” books at age 4, according to his father.
As a student first at Arlington Tech and later at Washington-Liberty High School, where he played lacrosse, he could be a bit of a rebel, his parents said: He was smart, and didn’t like to do busy work.
He signed up for the Marine Corps the day after he turned 18.
Spencer Collart adored animals, including the family hamster, Fluffernutter, who died in March 2020 shortly after the family’s house burned down, and dog, Stella, who was put down a week before the Marine’s death.
He loved bodysurfing. He loved the complex video game Dota 2. He loved the changing seasons, and while he was stationed on Hawaii he missed the cold of northern Virginia. He loved his family.
And he loved “every minute” of his training as a Marine, his father said.
Collart served in Pensacola, Florida, and Jacksonville, North Carolina, before coming to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363 at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, according to the Marine Corps.
“That really broke him up,” Bart Collart said of his son’s reaction to Strickland’s death.
A Marine Corps investigation released in July determined that the Osprey carrying Strickland and the four others had crashed because of a problem with the aircraft’s clutch. The Osprey’s joint program office said when the investigation was released that it had decreased the probability of a similar issue occurring by 99%.
Sabrina Singh, deputy Pentagon press secretary, said Tuesday that it was too early to tell whether the clutch problem caused the crash Sunday that killed Collart and two other Marines, and that the Defense Department still has confidence in the Osprey at this time.
Despite the tragic loss of his friend Strickland, Collart loved being an Osprey crew chief, according to his parents. He told his parents he wanted to go to college one day, earn his commission and become a pilot. He planned to start a family one day and eventually move back to his hometown.
While deployed to Darwin, Australia, with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, Collart enjoyed working with the Australian troops, his parents said.
A week before his death, he participated in an airshow in Pacific Airshow Gold Coast, where he agreed to take a photo with a little boy, according to Alexia Collart. A parent of the boy recently told Alexia Collart that getting a photo with the Marine in his flight suit “absolutely made his day.”
Spencer Collart deeply respected Capt. Eleanor V. LeBeau, 29, and Maj. Tobin J. Lewis, 37, pilots who both died in the crash, Alexia Collart said.
Marine Corps Times attempted to reach via email the families of LeBeau and Lewis but didn’t hear back.
Bart Collart said his family’s hearts go out to LeBeau and Lewis and to those who were injured. He said he has heard from several survivors of the crash that the three Marines who died were at the front of the Osprey and took quick action to protect the lives of the other 20 aboard.
“In a way, there’s a little comfort knowing he was with these pilots, because they were so experienced and caring,” Alexia Collart said.
Their son’s remains will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in his home city, according to Bart Collart.
Gwyneth Collart, Spencer Collart’s sister, described her brother as inspirational, an example of someone who worked hard for what he wanted.
“I saw him evolve from the no-shoe-wearing, strawberry-acai-Starbucks-drink-drinking, 7-11-taquito-eating guy to this really standup gentleman in the Marines,” the sister said.
She was in tune with her older brother from her earliest days.
When Gwyneth Collart was an infant who could speak only in baby talk that even her parents couldn’t understand, Spencer Collart would translate, Bart Collart recalled. The little boy perfectly understood his sister, who would nod her head yes with her thumb in her mouth.
As young adults, the siblings bonded over a shared appreciation for music.
In the days after her brother’s death, Gwyneth Collart turned on the car radio, something she said she almost never does.
Two of her brother’s favorite songs — “Africa” by Toto and “Die For You” by the Weeknd — came on the radio.
“I know that if he were to speak to me through anything, it would be music,” she said.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.