Nineteen years ago, Kernersville, North Carolina, proclaimed May 6th, 2003, “Andrew Turner Day.” The town is nestled in Forsyth County between Winston-Salem and Greensboro. It is a quiet, unassuming place just north of I-40. It is the boyhood home of Andrew Turner.
Andrew Turner is a 1995 graduate of Forsyth Country Day School, a 1999 graduate of Bucknell University, and a United States Marine Aviator. Currently, he occupies the desk next to mine in a windowless building on one of the sprawling Navy complexes in the Tidewater region of Virginia. He is generally a quiet, humble guy who does not seek attention. If you missed him in his Marine Corp Uniform, you would probably confuse him for a college professor.
In 2003, 1st Lieutenant Turner was assigned to the 39th Marine Air Group from Camp Pendleton, California. On March 30, 2003, he was the co-pilot of a UH-1 Huey helicopter taking off from a forward supply base 50 miles south of Baghdad. The aircraft may have suffered a mechanical failure and crashed. Somehow, Andrew was thrown clear of the wreck. He was taken to the USNS Comfort, a U.S. Navy Hospital ship in the Persian Gulf, in serious condition suffering from a badly broken ankle, a concussion, lacerations, and bruises. To add insult to serious injury, he was told that he was the only survivor out of the four-man Huey crew when he woke on the hospital ship.
After surgery on his ankle aboard Comfort, he was sent to Germany before returning to his parent’s home in Kernersville. Hundreds welcomed Andrew home at the airport and outside of his boyhood home.
The town of Kernersville recognized 1st Lieutenant Turner with a proclamation on May 6, 2003. Andrew Turner Day was born!
Move the calendar forward to 2022. In February, rumors of Andrew Turner Day started popping up in the office after Andrew and his wife Kate were invited to tour USNS Comfort in Norfolk. Kate is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve in Norfolk, VA.
The military community is known for ribbing each other mercilessly. As a Navy Veteran, I have no problem teasing my brothers and sisters in arms from other services for any reason. Please understand that while we do this with great love and respect (usually), we do not tolerate anyone outside of the veteran/active duty/reserve community picking on members of the Armed Forces. It is one of those unwritten laws, mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.
When a copy of the Andrew Turner Day Proclamation turned up, it was game on. Andrew joined in the fray by announcing that the 20th-anniversary celebration of ATD (yes, we have an acronym for Andrew Turner Day) in 2023 will include T-shirts and beer cozies. I have registered the # (for you Marines, that is a hashtag, not a pound sign) for the day. #ProudofOurAndrew is ours; I doubt the House of Windsor will challenge our ownership. I called the Forsyth County North Carolina Library in Winston-Salem. I found a very helpful research librarian who assisted me in getting all the clippings that you see here and more. A briefing book on Andrew Turner was prepared for our Vice Director. We even tried to convince the 4 SCOTS, Pipes, and Drums of the Highlanders, 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland to hang on a week after the Virginia International Tattoo to play at our Andrew Turner Day Celebration. Sadly, the UK wanted them home. Maybe the crown didn’t like our #ProudofOurAndrew registry after all. Talks of starting a petition to change the name of Kernersville to Turnersville have been circulating. I find this to be a reasonable request given that they only have to change the first two letters on the Town’s stationery. It is all in good fun. My branch took him to lunch this today, and a group of us are joining him this afternoon at a local Norfolk micro-brewery. Hey, he started a tab. Who are we to turn down beer?
Please, don’t think that I am taking the reason for all this lightly. Andrew returned to the cockpit, completed more deployments, and went into harm’s way when he was called upon to do so. He has put his life on the line for this country. As a fellow veteran, I respect and honor that. The Marine Corps will recognize Andrew’s fidelity, performance, and service when he is promoted to Colonel in a few weeks. They will pull him out of my office and send him back to a Marine Corps billet when that happens.
In the United States, we have Memorial Day to remember those military lives lost in service to America. We have Veterans Day to celebrate those who have served honorably and Armed Forces Day for those currently wearing this nation’s colors. On Andrew Turner Day, we celebrate Andrew and all those who have survived injury and wounds, but lost comrades close by in those moments. We will raise a glass and lower our heads to the memory of his three fallen comrades. We will lift our voices in gratitude that Andrew is still with us. I am sure he repeats the names of the lost crew of his UH-1 during quiet moments when his thoughts returned to Iraq in 2003. Today, his friends want to take on some of the burdens carried for those lost.
Happy Andrew Turner Day!
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