Bill Spriggs (left) of Massena, New York and Doug Sanville Sr (right). of Kingston, New Hampshire were special guests at an emotional gathering at the Eastside Restaurant in Newport on Saturday, May 15 in Newport.
Saturday, May 16 was Armed Forces Day, a day to honor members of their armed forces. For Bill Spriggs of Massena, New York it was the end of a 65 year journey that began on the battlefields of Europe and ended at the Eastside Restaurant in Newport, Vermont.
Spriggs has been haunted for 65 years following the death of his best wartime buddy, Raymond Sanville, an Irasburg, Vermont resident who was living in Newport at the time he left to fight in World War II.
“He wasn’t just my best friend, he was probably my only friend at the time,” Spriggs said, reflecting back so many decades.
It was friendship that was shattered on the battlefields of France on August 7, 1944 when Sanville was killed. For the past six and a half decades Spriggs wondered whether his friend’s body had made it back to Vermont.
Fast forward to Saturday, May 16 Spriggs and his wife Judy traveled to Newport for breakfast at the Eastside Restaurant. They weren’t there just for one of the restaurant’s outstanding meals. No, they were there to meet with people who Mr. Spriggs had never met, but they were people who he had dreamed of meeting – the family of Raymond Sanville. Among the Sanville family present were Mr. Sanville’s son, Doug Sanville Sr. of Kingston, New Hampshire, and grandson, Doug Sanville Jr. It was as if the two families had known each other forever.
A young Bill Spriggs
Spriggs explained why he was so obsessed to find out if his friend’s body had made it home. He told how each solder carry two dog tags. Each tag contained identifying information of the soldier. When a soldier is killed in combat one of the tags is retrieved from the body while the second one stays with the body to help identify it later.
“I was only 18 years old,” he said. “I took both of the tags. I didn’t know I was suppose to leave one.” Without an identifying tag left on Sanville’s body Spriggs worried that his friend had been buried without the dignity of a name. As bad, Spriggs couldn’t bear the thought that his friend’s family might not even know that their loved one had been killed. He didn’t want them to think their loved one had simply disappeared with no trace on a foreign battlefield.
“I kept a 65-year-old hope alive with just the thought of Raymond not being an unknown soldier,” Spriggs said. “Finding Raymond interred, first in France and then back home in Newport, Vermont — so close, only three hours from my home. I had no thought of his having a family. Finding Douglas Sanville is more than I hoped for. This will satisfy a need to make them a part of my family.”
Raymond Sanville and his son Doug
This reunion was made possible by World War II enthusiasts in Minnesota and Belgium who helped Spriggs with his mission. They first made contact with this writer in his role as the publisher of Vermont’s Northland Journal through the journal’s website. They were then directed to Raymond Sanville’s cousin, Julie (Sanville) Mossa of Derby. This writer and Mossa organized this emotional gathering. Spriggs talked about his friendship with Raymond Sanville and he told of the events leading up to his death. And Doug Sanville Sr., who never really knew his father, talked about growing up without his father, and what it meant to him to have Spriggs care enough to search out his family so many years later. The morning was filled with a mixture of tears, laughter, and reminiscing.
“I needed to satisfy myself that Raymond was back in Vermont,” Spriggs said. “Now I have.”
A very emotional Doug Sanville Sr. told how it wasn’t until well after the war that his father was interned at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Newport. “That was a sad day in my life.”
The aging soldier hands out emblems of the 83rd Army Division (The division which he and Sanville belonged) to members of the Sanville family while they were gathered at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Newport, Raymond Sanville’s final resting place. Left is Pauline Sanville of Westfield and Isabelle Armstrong of St. Johnsbury.
He also praised Spriggs for persevering in his search. “I think it was quite an adventure he did,” Sanville said. “I really appreciate it”.
Spriggs was honored with a letter from Vermont Gov. James H. Douglas commending him for his 65 year journey to ensure his friend’s body had made it back to Vermont. The Vermont legislature also passed a resolution commending his perseverance. It also recognized Doug Sanville’s loss of his father. Both men received copies of the resolution.
Following breakfast the group drove across town to St. Mary’s Cemetery where Raymond Sanville is buried. Saluting his friend’s grave, Spriggs said for the first time in 65 years he thinks he has found a bit of closure from the horrors he experienced during World War II. On June Spriggs plans to travel to Europe to visit the battlefields of his youth, including where Sanville died.
This year marks the 65th year since the end of World War II.
Spriggs gives a final salute to his fallen friend.