The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Charles Santrock loved God, country, family and community|
Charles Santrock was known for his love of country and his sense of humor, as evidenced by his expression above when he told the photographer she had taken enough photos.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
By K.A. WAGONER - Staff Writer
"I have no regrets. I've lived a very good life," said Sr. MSgt. Charles D. Santrock (Ret.) after being told he had only weeks to live. "I am most proud of my family and my military career."
Santrock, 80, died Sunday, June 24 after battling cancer for two and a half years. He faced death the way he did everything else in his life -- with faith and humor.
"It doesn't do any good to get upset," he said, smiling broadly. "It's just the way the ball bounces."
That positive attitude and a strong faith in God kept Santrock going for nearly a year longer than expected.
The career military man served in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years with tours in Korea and Vietnam, but he will be remembered in Franklin County as "Mr. American Legion," a nickname he cherished.
"I am very proud to be a Legionnaire," Santrock said. "I'm a patriot who loves his country and the men who fought for our freedom."
For more than 30 years, Santrock dedicated much of his time to the American Legion Post 6, serving as adjutant and commander. He loved helping other veterans and keeping their issues in the public eye. Santrock was very proud of presenting flags at 572 military funerals. He also felt it was an honor to place flags on the graves of veterans in Rocky Mount cemeteries on Memorial Day, a tradition he continued for many, many years.
Santrock graduated from Rocky Mount High School in 1950. After graduation, he attended Virginia Tech and joined the U.S. Naval Reserves in Roanoke. He was called to active duty in January 1951 and transferred to the U.S. Air Force.
Santrock was deployed to Korea in October 1952, where he flew 135 combat missions as an aviator. After a cease fire was signed on July 30, 1953, he returned home, where he married the former Peggy Williams from Scott County in October 1953.
The couple has three children, Donna Gutierez of Winchester, Brantley "Pete" Santrock of Rocky Mount and Nancy Nolan of Collinsville, and six grandchildren.
After returning from Korea, Santrock was stationed at Donaldson Air Force Base in South Carolina, where he flew cargo planes all over the world, including Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica, Africa and the Middle East.
Then in October 1967, Santrock was sent Vietnam to serve in the Military Assistance Command under Gen. William Westmoreland, a four-star Army general, whom Santrock admired immensely. The young soldiers in Vietnam called Santrock "Pops" because he was in his 30s at the time.
Santrock left Vietnam in October 1968 and returned to the states to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He eventually returned to Korea to serve in the United Nations Command in Seoul.
Santrock retired from active duty on Jan. 1, 1973. He remained in the Air Force Reserves until he retired in March 1980.
During his 30 years of service, Santrock earned 25 medals and commendations, which include the Korean Service Medal with four Bronz Battle Stars and the Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Battle Stars.
After retiring from active duty, Santrock returned to Franklin County and taught electronics at Franklin County High School for five years. Then he worked for The Lane Company in the industrial engineering department until he retired in July 1992.
Santrock was appointed to the Rocky Mount Planning Commission in August 2000, and served until July 2001, when he was sworn in as a member of Rocky Mount Town Council after winning a special election. He served one term on council and did not seek re-election.
Along with his service to the American Legion Post 6, Santrock was a longtime member and past president of the Rocky Mount Lions Club and an active member of Rocky Mount United Methodist Church. Over the years, he was recognized for his service to the country and community with numerous awards and recognitions. He was the first recipient of the Rocky Mount Rotary Club's Patriot Award and was designated as a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
The Town of Rocky Mount designated Nov. 10, 2010, as Charles Santrock Day. An editorial in the News-Post on that day called Santrock "a gentleman, scholar and family man. He exemplifies the meaning of the words 'patriot,' 'citizen' and 'American.' His convictions are as firm and unwavering as his optimism and enthusiasm."
In August 2011, Post 6 renamed its meeting place as the Charles D. Santrock American Legion Hall. During the ceremony, Santrock said, "All I am is just a Legionnaire. I'm not worthy of this."
Santrock was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2009. The disease quickly spread to his liver. After multiple surgeries and countless chemotherapy treatments over 15 months, Santrock stopped treatment. During all that time, Santrock said he experienced very little pain except the sickness due to chemo. "I am very blessed," he said.
Santrock had a vast knowledge of American history, along with real-life stories about his military adventures. One of his favorites occurred in February 1968 during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
"We were almost overrun by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies during the Tet Offensive," he said. "I stood up one morning and a bullet came through the window right by my nose and lodged into my wall locker...inside a box of laundry detergent."
When telling stories about Korea and Vietnam, Santrock spoke about the men with whom he served with such fondness and admiration, often ending his tale by shaking his head and saying, "He was a fine man."
During the Korean War, Santrock recalled one mission when a navigator assigned to his team got confused and sent them about 50 miles into enemy territory.
"We were flying in Northwest Korea at about 12,000 feet to the Han River," he said. "We came upon a river that happened to be the Yalu River. I looked to the right and saw two Mig fighters pull alongside us rapidly."
"That was a hair-raising situation for a few seconds," he added with a laugh. "The pilot pulled the throttle back on both engines and we fell out of the sky like a rock. That got our pucker factor up. But we were only about 21 and we were fearless."
"We finally leveled off at about 5,000 feet and headed south," Santrock said. "The funny thing is, you don't get frightened when things happen. It's not until after when you get your feet back on the ground that you think, 'Whew, that was close.'"
"Anyway, we didn't get shot," he added.
At a special meeting of Post 6 last July to honor his service, Santrock said pills and prayers were keeping him alive. "But the pills have stopped. Now, it's only prayers." He told the packed house that his fate was "in the hands of the Almighty."
Even then, Santrock never forgot the people he truly admired most: "If you run up on a veteran, stop him, and only two words are necessary -- thank you," Santrock said, concluding his service to Post 6 as commander.
The November editorial in the News-Post ended with "Mr. Santrock is truly one of a kind, and everyone in Franklin County should be proud that he is a native son."
A memorial service will be held today (Wednesday, June 27) at 11 a.m. at Rocky Mount United Methodist Church.