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PO3 Ernest Eugene Sanville

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On Saturday, November 21, Brattleboro’s American Legion Post 5 will honor local soldiers killed in action during the Vietnam War.

A ceremony, at the post home on Linden Street, will include students from Brattleboro Union High School reading the names and a brief biography of each of the 11 men, followed by a brief address by Dr. Robert Tortolani, a combat battalion surgeon during the Vietnam War.

The soldier biographies, along with family photos, will be posted on the Brattleboro Historical Society website, in succession, in the days leading up to the November 21 event.

Today we remember PO3 Ernest Eugene Sanville


PO3 Ernest Eugene Sanville

November 14,1943 – August 31, 1968

Ernest “Ernie” Eugene Sanville was born November 14, 1943, in Westfield, Massachusetts, the sixth of fifteen children, to Almon and Marie (Frechette) Sanville. There were his thirteen sisters—Helen, Shirley, Dodie, Marie, Irene, Linda, Margie, GG, Darleen, Nancy, Marcia, Carol, and Teresa—and one brother, Gerald.

The family moved to Hardwick, Vermont and then to Spofford, New Hampshire. Ernie attended St Michael High School.

Ernie had two nicknames—”Bug”, due to his small stature, and, not surprisingly, “Sunshine”, for his ever-present smile and sunny disposition. Later, among his fellow soldiers to whom he provided primary medical care as a hospital corpsman, he was known as “Doc”. In his youth, he had told his little sisters that the phoebes called his name, and he taught them to hear, “Ernie! Ernie!” rather than “Phoebe! Phoebe!”

Ernie had many friends, and his closest were Frank Neveau, Bob Davis, Jack Willette, and Louie Perham.They spent many nights at the local sock hops, bowling alley, and rollerdrome. Ernie also en- joyed hunting, fishing, horseshoes, golf, baseball, and his family, and he loved purple violets and yellow roses.

Humble, private, and well liked, he was shy all his life and held a deep religious conviction. He was especially known as a hard worker, and he possessed an uncanny ability to appear at times when a helping hand was needed. He’d considered entering the priesthood, but he later joked with his wife that he’d dismissed the idea because he could never have mastered Latin.

On July 18, 1964, he married the former Shirley Bruce, having met her at American Optical, where they were both employed. He also worked at country clubs in both Brattleboro and Spofford. Soon after their marriage, the infamous draft lottery took place, and Ernie’s birthday was one of the first to be drawn. He received a draft notice, and since he couldn’t envision himself carrying a firearm with the intent to kill another human, he enlisted in the navy in the hopes of avoiding combat. Because of the results of his aptitude test, he was sent to the Great Lakes to be trained as a hospital corpsman, though he passed out whenever blood was spilled. From there, he was transferred to a naval base Charleston, South Carolina. There, his first daughter, Deanne, was born.

From Charleston, Ernie came home for his final visit before his tour in Vietnam. It was a desperately short month for his parents and siblings as they tried to make the most of their time together. He then went to Camp Pendleton in California for six weeks of training and left for Vietnam in May 1968 with the Marines.

He and his siblings corresponded with letters, and he managed to call his wife, who was pregnant with their second child, a few times. For the most part, he shielded his family from the horrors he lived with daily, his letters light and vague and always closing with “God bless you.” In Vietnam, he served with Marine Infantry Rifle Platoons and later with a combined Action Platoon (CAP). As a member of a CAP unit Ernie cared for ill and wounded Vietnamese civilians, as well as wounded Marines.

On July 19, 1968, his second daughter, Danielle, was born. He never got to hold this child, because he was killed just forty three days later in Quang Nam, South Vietnam, on August 31, 1968, at the age of twenty-four. When another soldier was ill that night, Ernie took his place on patrol. The soldier in front of him stepped on a land mine, and in a split second, he was gone.

Time marches on, and Ernie’s family had to move forward without him. His daughters grew up and gave him ten grandchildren: Daniel Sanville was born to Ernie’s daughter, Deanne, who trained as a teacher. His daughter, Danielle, a registered nurse, has nine children: Like their father, his daughters have deep faith and have raised their children to have the same. Ernie would have been so very proud of them. Semper Fi.