When Jim Spencer was 19 years old, serving as an Army Scout with the 7th/1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam, he suffered a life-changing event. The Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross he received reads:
Specialist Four Spencer distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions while serving as aerial observer aboard a light observation helicopter. When his aircraft was subjected to intense enemy automatic weapons fire, he immediately retaliated by firing his machinegun so accurately and effectively that one insurgent position was eliminated and several others were rendered ineffective, thus enabling his aircraft to safely depart the area. Upon returning to the area to mark numerous enemy fortifications with smoke grenades for the circling helicopter gunships, his ship was again subjected to extremely heavy automatic weapons fire which seriously wounded Specialist Spencer and severely damaged the aircraft. Despite his wounds, Specialist Spencer continued to deliver a devastating barrage of accurate suppressive fire until lapsing into unconsciousness.
Through his undaunted courage and devotion to duty, Specialist Spencer was highly instrumental in allowing his aircraft to escape without sustaining any subsequent combat damage. As a result of Specialist Spencer’s intrepid actions and conspicuous courage displayed under intense hostile fire, several enemy positions were silenced and an enemy ammunition cache and weapons repair shop were destroyed. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.
Spencer’s wounds were indeed serious: He was struck by a bullet in the spinal cord at the C5/C6 level and became a quadriplegic.
“As a kid from the Blue Ridge Mountains, I loved hunting and fishing, and was sure those days were over,” Spencer said.
He fell into a dark period. As a C5/C6 quadriplegic, he had no use of his hands or triceps, and limited use of his biceps and deltoid muscles. This made conventional shooting nearly impossible—that is, until he found a secondary use for a tool on his wrist.
“If you’re a C4/C5 quad or a C5/C6, you’ve got the splint on your hand because your wrist extensor doesn’t work…There’s a little metal thing sticking out…like you would use to feed yourself or groom yourself. When I first found this, I wasn’t too motivated to feed myself or groom myself, but when I figured out I could use this to pull the trigger of my rifle, now everything changed,” he said.
Spencer quickly developed an ingenious setup to help him enjoy his love of hunting. All he needed was a lapboard to set his rifle and bipod on, a belt to affix the rifle to his shoulder and his wrist extensor notch to help him pull the trigger. After practice at the indoor range, Jim was able to rekindle his passion and love for the outdoors.
In the 41 years since being wounded in combat, Jim Spencer has harvested more than 100 animals, many of trophy quality, showcasing his marksmanship with the longest shot at 600 yards. In the true hunter’s spirit, all of the animals were eaten by Jim and his family or donated to the less fortunate. He hopes that his story and the perseverance he’s displayed may help others with spinal cord injuries see that with some hard work and dedication, they can still enjoy the activities they love most.
To help injured veterans achieve their dreams of hunting, visit the HAVA website.
To see some of the impressive hunting trips and trophies that Jim has accumulated over the years, visit the Hunting as a Quadriplegic: The Jim Spencer Story photo gallery.