BELMONT COUNTY, Ohio (WTRF) – From the military to ministry. Kurt Turner from Belmont County said it was his time in the U.S. Navy that would eventually inspire him to serve his fellow man.
Long before that, he was was a 16-year-old high school student signing up to serve during the Vietnam War. It was those years as a hospital corpsman that would forever change his life.
My mother’s and father’s brothers and one sister were all Navy, except one Army. I don’t know, I guess I always just kind of followed that and I always wanted to be a medic.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
When asked why he ultimately chose to be a hospital corpsman, Turner said he doesn’t quite know, but that it must have been his desire to care for other people.
They (the Navy) thought I should of been a mechanic and I told them I hardly know how to change oil.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
It wasn’t the path the military chose for him, but one he forged for himself. Turner chose to go to neuropsychiatric school after boot camp and hospital corps school. That took him to Bethesda, Maryland where he would stay and work after his training was complete.
Eventually Turner was assigned to the USS Repose hospital ship. a
If I wouldn’t have gone through a specialty school I would have ended up in the field. and I give those guys all the credit. We had it, I don’t want to say easy, but compared to them our lives weren’t on the line 24-hours a day like theirs were.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
The USS Repose was in the South China sea, within three miles of shore at all times. It rotated sites with other hospital ships as patients were flown in for treatment. Including the ships’ crew and medical personnel, more than 500 people were on board.
If you’re working a job as a civilian at least you go home at night. You have people to talk to. What we had was just usually a few of us that worked together were the only ones we had to talk to and we were like brothers.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
Turner remembers he did treat some psychiatric patients, but spent most of his time in triage. He also flew with bodies of those who had passed back to land so they had an escort.
There were long days, with 10 to 12 hour shifts, and difficult moments.
Turner said he’ll never forget the first Marine that died in his arms.
As he lay there dying, he kept going ‘puh’ ‘puh’ and that’s the only sound he could get out. I was trying to guess what he wanted, family, this and that. He was so sedated with morphine his eyes were closed the whole time. When I said prayer his eyes open and I prayed with him until he died.
I was threatened to be court marshalled for not going back to the chopper. I said something to a lieutenant that’s the kind of language I don’t use. Fortunately he understood me and didn’t write me up.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
In that moment, Turner recalls he didn’t get much information. He knew that another wounded man called the dying Marine “Williams”. After 30-years of research he finally tracked down that Marine’s family in Oklahoma City. In 1999, he paid the family a visit.
They thought he had died in the field and so it was kinda comforting. Unfortunately his Dad died the year before. His mother, she just sat there and smiled the whole time. I think she could feel the camaraderie between the two of us.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
Turner treated a lot of patients, and said most of what he saw still impacts him to this day, but there’s one particular moment that caused him great difficulty for many years.
It was during the Tet Offensive portion of the Vietnam War and Turner said he went more than 100-hours without sleep because so many patients needed help.
I was in triage and we were working on a patient who had a leg wound and there was something odd about the way his leg was wrapped up and one of the walking wounded came in and he said ‘stop’.
How he happened to be there at that time and saw this, I don’t know.
He said it’s a booby trap. He said I need everyone to clear out. I need one volunteer. So, being me I volunteered. It was a booby trap. It was a grenade.
He said ‘when we take this release it, it’s gonna release the pin’. So he says ‘you know more about the ship than I do. What’s the quickest route out where you can throw this in the ocean?’. He said ‘you have 10 seconds’. So, I just kind of pretty well covered it up with my body, took off running, and threw it and just as it hit the water it went off.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
Turner said after that, he sat against the bulkhead of the ship for a long time before he was ready to go treat more patients. He relives that moment a lot, and sometimes sees that flash of light in his dreams. He calls it a reminder of how fortunate he is to be alive.
It was just beyond four full days that my body finally said ‘that’s it you can’t go any farther’. We had a makeshift morgue next to the flight deck and we had 12 gurneys there and we had 11 bodies with sheets over them. I took the 12th one and climbed in and put a sheet over me and fell sound asleep.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran
After a year on the USS Repose, a 20-year-old Turner returned home and left the military.
He worked doing more physical labor for many years, then went back to school and worked for Belmont County, forming the first welfare fraud unit. Turner also taught psychology.
Now, he’s fulfilling a true calling as a minister and helping first responders process and cope with the trauma they see.
It was that whole experience that I went through, mostly during Vietnam itself that I think really lead me to that. I thought that was my calling.Kurt Turner, U.S. Navy Veteran