Veteran Matt Spang to lead Vail America Days Parade on Fourth of July
For the past 30 years, the Minturn Holy Cross VFW Post 10721 has led the Vail America Days Parade through Vail as the No. 1 slotted float. Front and center each year is a veteran carrying the American flag, followed by more veterans carrying all of the service flags as well as the town of Vail, Eagle County and Colorado flags. Behind them are two jeeps from World War II.
“We try to honor one person to carry the American flag,” said Buddy Sims, of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization.
This year, the local VFW is partnering with Vail Veterans Program to honor Matt Spang, this year’s American flag bearer at the America Days Parade featuring 60 floats and thousands of people lining the streets of Vail.
“I’m honored,” Spang said. “I’m pretty excited. I’m going to have my family out there.”
Spang will be traveling from his home in Monument, while his family is making the trip from Wisconsin to celebrate Independence Day in Vail.
‘When this happened’
Spang joined the military in August of 2006 and did basic training until December of that year. He was a combat engineer, trained to clear roads, fields and humans of IEDs so that other troops could maneuver safely.
“They could have been Air Force, Army, Marines, Special Forces — our job was to clear the roads,” he said.
He was in for a little over seven years, spending four years at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs before re-enlisting and heading for the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
In 2008-09, he deployed from Fort Carson to Iraq, where his vehicle was blown up the first of four times. That first one in Iraq just cracked a window and popped a tire, he said.
After a year in Hawaii, he was deployed to Afghanistan. The first IED in Afghanistan to hit his team’s vehicle was pretty big, he said, but no one got hurt. The second one in Afghanistan, he said he “got his bell rung pretty bad” and had bruised thighs — “the seat underneath me was dented.”
“My next mission back was when this happened,” he said.
On Dec. 7, 2011, Spang experienced his fourth IED attack while in the military, this one requiring a double amputation of his legs below the knee.
‘Appreciate the thanks’
Since that day in 2011, Spang is now living in his own Colorado home while visiting the Vail Veterans Program a couple of times each year.
He is doing well physically, playing sled hockey and wheelchair basketball with a Denver team. He says his upper body is the strongest it has ever been.
He was recently here for a charity golf tournament at Country Club of the Rockies, where the Vail Veterans Program and Military Warrior Support Foundation gave away a house to a veteran. Sims and the local VFW presented the colors at the tournament.
“They do all sorts of different stuff at Vail Vets,” he said. “I want to try skiing with them this year.”
Sims, Spang and Cheryl Jensen, of the Vail Veterans Program, started the discussion of bringing Spang out for the Fourth of July parade at that charity golf tournament earlier this summer.
“I think for Buddy to ask one of our alumni to carry it is an incredible honor,” Jensen said. “Vail has become such a special place to Matt, and to be able to walk through the whole town representing not only our organization but our great nation is great.”
Sims will also be in the parade, following Spang with the Air Force flag.
“The VFW just loves leading the parade all of these years,” he said. “And all of these veterans appreciate the thanks and praise they get marching in the parade.”
Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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