Bennington's own American hero: Bob Sausville

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BENNINGTON >> Bennington has an American hero in its midst. Though he might not admit he is a hero, career military veteran Bob Sausville spent his life serving his country, but enjoyed every minute of it. As his nephew, Paul Sausville, described to The Banner in a letter, he is a "model of small town character for young people."

The 95-year-old Bennington native would be reluctant to condone such a title.

"I'm just a plain vanilla guy," Bob Sausville said as his wife, Gerry Sausville, chuckled. "No chocolate syrup or crushed nuts here."

Sausville is the first to admit, however, that he's had "a hell of a life."

An American hero

Sausville is an alumnus of Sacred Heart and Bennington High School, class of 1938. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in April 1941, when he went overseas to serve in his first of two American wars. He went to aircraft mechanic school in Illinois before he was deployed to fly as a flight engineer on the Northeast Submarine Patrol against the Germans in World War II.

He entered pilot training in 1942, and was again deployed for 58 combat missions over the southwest Pacific Ocean as an offensive B-24 bomber pilot against Japanese forces.

When Sausville arrived back to the U.S., he served the Army Air Corps as a B-29 instructor pilot until 1945, when he temporarily left military service. For five years thereafter, he was a fixed-base operator and private flight instructor at the Bennington Airport.

Sausville was recalled to active duty in November 1950 for overseas deployment during the Korean War. Following a year of flight against North Korean and Chinese forces, he decided to make a career out of his military enlistment.

"They had what they call a 'reduction in force,' where they sent everyone home," Sausville said. "They're doing that now, but it's kind of a bad thing for people who have almost 20 years of active duty, to be sent home, because you have that much work put into it toward retirement. Fortunately, they recommended me for regular Air Force, and luckily there was some longevity to look ahead to."

After returning to the U.S., Sausville went into research and development to test new aircrafts and weapons systems for the air force. He did so through the Vietnam War until 1969, when he officially retired from service.

The career military pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II, as well as an Airman's Medal, an Air Force Commendation Medal and over a dozen campaign ribbons. You wouldn't know of his career by looking at him, but the title, "American hero," comes from a life fully explored otherwise.

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A full life

Born on 118 Dewey St. at the turn of the 20th century, Sausville was one of seven children raised during the Great Depression. His story began in the basement of that old Dewey Street house, where he spent a lot of his childhood rehabilitating old clocks.

"We didn't have much money, but my mom and I used to go up the auction to buy clocks. I'd do everything from the woodwork, refinish them and the mechanics of them. I would continue to buy them when I traveled in the service."

A truly creative personality from the time he wound many of those antique clocks as a kid, he never lost sight of that through his decades of military service.

Eventually having returned to Bennington after traveling the country and the globe, Sausville and his wife bought a new home on Dewey Street in 1969, where they started an antique clock retail and repair shop. Although the business came and went, Sausville continues to keep a substantial collection, and continues to find joy in his hobbies.

Bob Sausville and his wife Gerry — then Gerry Marra — were high school sweethearts: Now they are celebrating more than 70 years of marriage. They raised three children and have several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Sausville is also a published poet. He told stories of when he would write out poems in his high school classes, not bothering to pay attention to the lectures. Though he never thought his verses would take him anywhere, he continued to write. His sons caught on when Sausville would drift off in his writing while they were at deer camp.

"This poetry thing started a long, long time ago when I was a kid, but we never saved anything," he said. "Maybe about 10 years ago, our kids started saving things that I would scratch out."

Sausville's poetry takes his readers through several reflections on his lifetime fully spent. After his children combined a thorough collection, they published it in a book, "Humorous Verse," which really lives up to Sausville's "model of small town character."

"Poetry is a funny thing," Sausville said. "You don't do it by sitting down and thinking that you are going to write a poem. You'll be daydreaming, and things start going around in your head until you have about four or five lines."

Though the clocks might be starting to unwind, Bob Sausville expresses it well in his poetry, that he has passed through the compass of a meaningful life. He is the first to praise others before himself, like his children, his parents, his wife and small town Bennington.

"I wouldn't have changed one thing about my life. When I was stateside, Gerry was with me all the time. We've lived in several states, but when it came time to retire, we decided, 'let's go back,' to Bennington," Sausville said.

Call Tom Momberg at 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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