Marine Corps Base Quantico --
What began many years ago as a little boy’s distant dream
became a heartwarming reality on Tuesday when Steve Brackeen Turunc graduated
from the Officer Candidates School and became a Marine Corps officer.
Ten weeks after arriving at Marine Corps Base Quantico
with the intent of following his grandfather’s footsteps, Turunc was among the
169 candidates to receive the gold bars signifying their status as newly minted
second lieutenants before a large throng of friends and family at the National
Museum of the Marine Corps.
The accomplishment was the realization of a dream for
Turunc, whose grandfather, the late John Brackeen, commanded a Marine rifle
platoon in Vietnam. Brackeen played a key role in preventing 2nd Platoon, Bravo
Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from being overrun by a numerically
superior North Vietnamese Army force during Operation Swift in September 1967.
Brackeen’s life was spared on Sept. 6, 1967 when Sgt.
Rodney M. Davis lunged atop an enemy grenade during a firefight just outside of
Chau Lam. Davis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, but Turunc has
gone to great measures to honor both his grandfather’s valor and that of the
man who made his own existence possible.
Brackeen’s widow says her husband would have been
thrilled to see the oldest of his grandchildren fulfill the dream he’d harbored
most of his life.
“He’s up in heaven grinning and doing flips,” said Gwen
Brackeen of her late husband, who served two tours in Vietnam before succumbing
to cancer in January 2010. “He’s excited about this. This is John’s oldest
Turunc’s aunt, Smittee Root agreed, saying, “They were
very close. I see a lot of my father in Steve.”
The journey has been a physically challenging one, but
the 25-year-old Turunc persevered even as others succumbed to the constant
fatigue and lack of sleep. His OCS class began in mid-September with 259
hopeful officer candidates, only to be whittled down by attrition.
“I have been so busy / stressed haha,” he recently wrote
in a brief e-mail. “Entering week 9, so ten more days to go!!”
Fluent in English, French and Spanish and accomplished in
Turkish and German as well, Turunc has lived abroad extensively and is nearly
finished with a second master’s degree in international relations-international
studies to go along with a previous one in political science. But it has always
been his great love and admiration of his grandfather that drove him. Turunc’s
grandfather was the subject of his thesis for his first master’s degree.
“They adored each other,” Gwen Brackeen said.
Turunc was long riveted by Brackeen’s service in Vietnam,
and often spoke in detail with his grandfather about what it was like to
command Marines in combat. His stated mission since childhood was to someday do
It’s been a dream come true, and next up is a six-month
stay at The Basic School, where Turunc will learn the specific skills necessary
to be a Marine combat officer.
“It’s such a great accomplishment,” Root said. “He always
wanted to be an officer in the Marine Corps since he was six and a half years