Sunday, April 08, 2007

Curtis R. Spivey dies in San Diego following September I.E.D. injuries

CHULA VISTA – Bitter and broken, Army Spc. Curtis Spivey didn't feel much like a hero when he came home to Chula Vista from his third tour in Iraq last fall.

A roadside bomb had blown up his Humvee near Baghdad on Sept. 16, wounding the soldiers inside and throwing him 40 feet in the air from his perch as the vehicle's rooftop gunner. The blast shattered his legs, bruised his brain and broke his back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Spivey, 25, hated the thought of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

“He was not a happy camper when he came here,” said Al Kovach, president of the Cal-Diego chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, who counseled Spivey during his recuperation at the VA Medical Center in La Jolla. “He kept the lights off, the shades pulled. The only person he would talk to was his father.”

But nurtured by the tough love of his ex-Navy dad and the worshipful love of his 2-year-old daughter, Mariana, Spivey had made what relatives described as a remarkable turnaround. Last weekend, he talked with his family about his future for the first time.

“He realized there was another life,” said his father, Joseph L. Spivey, 52, of Chula Vista. “He was looking to go to college, to start a second career.”

Curtis Spivey's newly sunny outlook made his death Monday all the more shocking. A blood vessel in his weakened brain burst over the weekend, causing damage that doctors couldn't fix. His family removed him from life support Monday, and he slipped away soon after.

“I had never seen him in better spirits than in the days just before he died,” Kovach said. “His death was something we could not have seen coming.”

Curtis Spivey died barely one year after his 29-year-old brother, Joey – whom the soldier described in a entry as his hero – died of a congenital heart defect no one in the family knew about.

“It's been a hard road,” said Curtis' widow, Aida Spivey, 24.

Curtis Spivey had traveled a lot of hard roads himself. As a youngster, he loved Legos, Hot Wheels and Transformers and, most of all, video games.

But he struggled in school. When he was 7, doctors diagnosed him with attention-deficit disorder. His parents said Curtis was smart but had a tough time studying. He nearly flunked out of Hilltop High School in Chula Vista but graduated with his class in 2000 after completing 2½ years of classes in less than six months on a self-paced program policed by his parents.

“He had to learn his own way,” said his mother, Tania Spivey, 52.

In December 2000, Curtis Spivey enlisted in the Marine Corps as his father was finishing a 30-year Navy career as a command master chief.

“He always told me that he wanted to join the military like his dad, but not the Navy,” Aida Spivey said.

Joseph Spivey still has the coin Curtis earned at his boot camp graduation.

“I grabbed a hold of him and gave him a hug,” Spivey recalled, smiling at the memory. “He said, 'You don't hug a Marine!' I said, 'Well, this master chief does.' ”

Assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Twentynine Palms, Curtis Spivey fought during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, then served a second combat tour in 2004.

“It was horrible, just getting from one deployment to another,” Aida Spivey said. “He would just zone out. He would hear loud noises, and he would freak.”

Curtis Spivey finished his four-year hitch with the Marine Corps at the end of 2004. He left that service but immediately joined the Army and became a cavalry scout with the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

“I hated it. I thought he was crazy,” Aida Spivey said. “But you can't tell someone he can't do something.”

Curtis Spivey shipped out to Iraq in 2005, leaving behind his wife and baby daughter. During this and previous deployments, he would exchange instant messages on the computer with Joey. He came home in March 2006 to help his family with Joey's burial before returning to Iraq.

And then came the bomb blast six months later. Curtis Spivey never remembered the explosion. During rehabilitation, he frequently grew angry at his nurses and would refuse to eat or exercise. His wife said Mariana helped break him out of his depression.

“The first time he got in a wheelchair, she said, “Yeah! Go daddy!' ” Aida Spivey recalled. “He was so in love with her – daddy's little girl.”

Curtis Spivey will be buried with military honors April 12 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Besides his parents and his stepmother, Bernadine, he is survived by a younger brother, Michael, and three stepsisters: Vicki DeLegrave and Rebecca Macedo of Chula Vista, and Marissa Macedo of Portland, Ore.

Despite Curtis Spivey's loss, his family doesn't regret his military service.

“He did what he loved to do,” Tania Spivey said. “Why would I regret that?”

From the Tribune