Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | May 5, 2009

Jeff Spara

Jeffrey Leonard Spara

Colonel, Infantry, U.S. Army Retired.  Class of 1972, United States Military Academy

When I got the word that Jeff Spara had died, I knew I’d write something to honor him.  I didn’t know his family and funeral home would have blogspots waiting for words about him.  All the better, then.  More places to speak about a man worthy of praise.  Yet, at that moment I drew an absolute blank on how to tell a story about Jeff Spara that was equal to the man.  Jeff added a depth and breadth that made my words inadquate.  A word – like “infantryman” missed the color, texture, and emotional slap – that the word held for anyone who actually knew an “infantryman” and knew Jeff Spara.

You had to know Jeff to know how the words changed their meaning.  How they came alive.  How they gained meaning.  How they grabbed you and lived in you – because of Jeffrey Spara.

I knew Jeff for almost 41 years.  I look forward to spending eternity near him when the time comes. 

Jeff was one of the oldest guys in the Class of 1972.  He had served a tour in the 82nd Airborne before Prep School.  He made Sergeant E-5.   I called him by the nickname “Sparatrooper.”  Jeff remembered every leadership lesson learned as a young enlisted soldier – and lived them until his dying day.  From our class of 822, I count myself as honored to associate with many good men.  Yet, with Jeff it’s the honor of being a friend, classmate, comrade in arms of a great man.  Great in what counts the most.

Sunday, at his visitation, I told his grown children that their Dad was a great man.  I encouraged them to talk to their children through all of their lives so they will know the grandfather they can’t recall or never met.  He will live with them here, even though he is quite alive in another place – Heaven. 

I visited Jeff in November 2007 when he was recovering from one of many treatments for the cancer that took his body to the grave – but never claimed that living, immortal spirit saved by Grace.  We had a private moment before I left – where I asked him to let me pray with him.  When we were done, I said, “Jeff, there is nothing unsaid.  If you or I go tomorrow, there is nothing not said.  You know how I feel and I you.”  He smiled his impish grin and nodded affirmative.

Jeff Spara made a better joke in a few words, an arched eyebrow, a shrug and a grin than most stand up comedians do in their entire routine.  I’d seen his laugh many times before.

We spent 4 years in the isolation of the total institution that was West Point at the end of the Vietnam War and before girls.  Guys in the same regiment knew one another after 4 years of 24/7 together.  Jeff’s perspective from the real Army was a wash of realism to a surreal long incubation for officerhood.

Then, there was Infantry Officer Basic – and I can’t recall, exactly, the other crossing of paths – because they are blurred with so many moments of classmate recognition at a training area or another school.  Until we get to the one year overlap at grad school.  Jeff, Marie and babies came by in the late Spring 1980 for breakfast while they were looking for a place to live.  That breaking of bread was followed by many cups of coffee at the JFK School of Government at Harvard.  And three years on the faculty at West Point where we crossed paths most often at the gym.  Our wives and children entwined their lives through that posting.  We saw Jeff’s devotion, easily understood, to the most gentle, loving, supportive soul that is Marie.  And his great joy and love for his children.  We became CHRISTmas card correspondents.  And at Class Reunions, furtive- fleeting-catching-up-on-all-that-life-has-wrought respondents. 

Which grants me the right to say with authority these words that only have their unique meaning in context – if you have known, experienced, Jeff Spara.

  • Solid.  The way Jeff was as a cadet when others were still growing up.   Maybe all of his life – ask his parents.   Certainly in all the days to follow West Point.  Working until a week before he died.
  • Straight arrow.  The man who designed the straight arrow.
  • Leader.  In his presence – not as a tall man – but a man of magnitude in character.
  • Soldier.  Always pulling his weight.  Always asking nothing he hadn’t done or wouldn’t do.  Always and forever a soldier.   Serving as much in retirement as on active duty – maybe more.
  • Officer.  Dedicated to what is important beyond self, career, or situation – for what is right and best for the United States Army.  Loyal to the harder right above all.
  • Patriot.  In every breath.  Reflexively and innately, naturally – but passionately – serving the United States of America.  Loving his country.
  • Friend.  Trusted, trusted, trusted.  Light-hearted at ease.  Stout and stalwart in need.
  • Father and Husband.  The best men can be. 
  • Faith.  Devout Christian, observant Roman Catholic, confident in the truth of Jesus that sets us free.  Believer by faith, who lived through his walk and works, real faith.  Alive today – absent the body and instantly in the presence of the Lord Jesus – in a real place called Heaven.

Jeff Spara – “Well done.

Read more on ‘Proud and True’ Jeff Spara – http://jeffspara.blogspot.com

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Responses

  1. Words escape me to express the sadness of knowing that Jeff has died. We attended Ranger School in 1972 and were in the same platoon. He stands four men over to my right in our class photo, 3-73. My condolences to the family and may God bless them. Knowing Jeff I know he is to the right side of the Lord.
    Jesús Rodriguez-Cumba MAJ Inf, Ret


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