Vietnam vet from Shelby County living a charmed life

Hurshal Spurling has survived several perilous moments in his life.

An Army medic combat, he came home safely from two tours in Vietnam – he even managed to escape the wrath of an angry cobra once.

But the most dangerous moment in his life likely came as a Shelbyville teenager trying to deliver donuts in the winter on a rickety, old bicycle.

“I used to deliver donuts early in the morning to all the taverns and restaurants with a bicycle that had a warped front wheel,” explained Spurling. “There was ice on the ground about like this (he pinched his fingers together to within an inch or two of each other). I was holding three dozen donuts trying to ride a bicycle that you couldn’t hardly ride with two good hands. And I had to balance a pan of donuts.

“I fell one morning on that ice ... the donuts went everywhere. I picked them up and blew them off and delivered them anyway (a hearty laugh followed). The next day, every place I had delivered asked what happened to the donuts yesterday ... everybody complained they had gravel in them.”

Spurling can spin a story. I had a chance to talk with him earlier this week. He is in town visiting family. It’s a yearly trek nearing an end he admits, but he said the same thing last year. And here he is, 90 years old, driving 12-plus hours straight through from Columbia, South Carolina, just to be back home.

Spurling’s everyman story is not unusual. He didn’t go to high school in the 1940s, instead working for Pope’s Bakery in Shelbyville.

“I did about everything ... made pies and cakes,” he recalled. “I was a helper. I wasn’t a baker.”

He didn’t need an education to realize he needed a future. So he joined the U.S. Army in 1947.

“I didn’t have nothing else to do. What I was doing had no future in it,” he said.

He was sent to Fort Knox to learn how to be a soldier.

“They was tough on you, I tell you that,” said Spurling with his southern twang. He was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana, and has called South Carolina home for six decades now. “I got shot in the butt with blanks. They try to teach you to get in a ditch and out without exposing your head ... parallel going in and parallel coming out. I did it a little bit wrong, and ‘sarge’ standing there on the banks shot me in the butt with blanks and said, ‘Get in there and get out like I showed you.’

“Which I did (more hearty laughter).”

In the Army for 24 years and that was the only time Hurshal Spurling was shot. He was and still is charmed – supported by loving sisters and a daughter that has given him three grandchildren to spoil.

He can intertwine military stories with his personal life now and make it seem like life has been easy. According to his sister, Jeanetta Fitz, who lives in Shelbyville on Boggstown Road, only in recent years has he opened up about life in the 1960s in Vietnam. As a combat medic, he has seen men with the worst injuries imaginable.

After basic training, Spurling learned how to jump out of planes and successfully walked away from over 100 parachute jumps. The Army sent him to Germany, where the frauleins were plentiful, and Japan, where he volunteered to go. He joined the military after World War II was over and never got sent to Korea, even though he tried.

“While I was in Germany, I was a small corporal ... two stripes (he touched his shoulder as if they were there). I volunteered to go to Korea in 1952,” he said. “We were watching a baseball game one Saturday afternoon. The regimental surgeon was sitting behind me. I had already changed from infantry to medic by then. He said, ‘Corporal Spurling, you’re request to go to Korea is on my desk. On Monday, I will sign it and you will be gone.’

“I said, ‘Thank you, sir.’