Old soldier set to fly: 93-year-old veteran to skydive with his family

Stanley Sasine did not speak about his service in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II until his grandson Adrian Sasine coaxed him into a booth at the Atlanta History Center to interview him for the StoryCorps project. CONTRIBUTED BY ADRIAN SASINE

Stanley Sasine did not speak about his service in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II until his grandson Adrian Sasine coaxed him into a booth at the Atlanta History Center to interview him for the StoryCorps project. CONTRIBUTED BY ADRIAN SASINE

Stanley Sasine, 93, figured he had done it all.

He’d fought in World War II, married his teenage sweetheart, met Frank Sinatra, bought and sold businesses, won the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes, become nationally famous, had four children, 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

So he was content. Then, during a random elevator conversation at his senior living facility, a friend happened to mention that she was going skydiving. She was 90 years old.

Skydiving, thought Sasine. Dang. Followed by the thought: Well, if that 90-year-old lady can do it, I can do it, too.

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Surprisingly, his family was not against the idea. In fact, his family is jumping with him.

About a dozen Sasine kin will travel to Monroe Saturday morning, take some training, board a prop plane, climb up to 14,000 feet, and launch themselves into the air.

“I’ve done about everything except jump out of an airplane,” said the native New Yorker. “So you can say there ain’t nothing this guy won’t do.”

Sasine’s son, Steve Sasine, isn’t joining in the action, due to unforeseen circumstances: He had a heart attack last week. “The doctors told him he can’t jump,” said Steve’s daughter Hailey Sasine, but he’s going along to watch. “None of us wants to miss it,” said Hailey, “even the ones who aren’t jumping.”

Taking the plunge is a familiar activity for Stanley Sasine.

Merrill’s Marauders were assigned the task of pushing the Japanese forces out of Burma during World War II, and often penetrated deep behind enemy lines. Stanley Sasine, a superior marksman, discovered that his colorblindness, which kept him out of the Air Force, became an asset in picking off camouflaged enemy soldiers. CONTRIBUTED BY STANLEY SASINE

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Growing up in Long Island, N.Y., he jumped at the chance to join the Air Force in 1943, but was rejected because of his colorblindness.

“The Army was the only one that would take me,” said Sasine, during a conversation at his pleasantly cluttered apartment north of Sandy Springs. “I could hit the target from 350 yards. My eyesight was great, but I could not see the colors.”

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Sasine was dressed in a jaunty beret, decorated with his Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and the green and blue shield of Merrill’s Marauders. That storied, all-volunteer guerrilla unit was charged with driving Japanese troops out of Burma, a task that entailed arduous jungle combat, often deep behind enemy lines, using mules to haul mortars, bazookas and supplies.

It turned out that colorblindness was bad in the Air Force, but useful in the jungle. Sasine’s peculiar vision wasn’t fooled by camouflage: Despite disguises made of leaves and weeds, the enemy combatants stood out like sore thumbs.

In the kind of story that Sasine likes to tell, which may or may not be embellished, he came crawling back to camp from a skirmish, and ran into Gen. Frank D. Merrill.

“He said, ‘Sasine, how did it go?’ I said, ‘We were a little short of help there. There were more than we anticipated, and I’m the only one who can see them.’ He asked me, ‘Are you colorblind?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘From now on, you are our first scout.’”

The Bronze Star and the patch from Merrill’s Marauders are among the medals that adorn Stanley Sasine’s jaunty beret. BO EMERSON / BEMERSON@AJC.COM

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The short-statured Sasine said he much preferred being at the front of the line. “I had no problem from then on. We hardly lost a man. I’d rather be in the front than behind. I knew they didn’t want to shoot me, they wanted to get the 500 guys behind me.”

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The old soldier has multiple scrapbooks to illustrate his tales from the war. Here is some Japanese currency; here are photos of casualties on the battlefield; here is a picture of an Elephantiasis-infected beggar in Calcutta; here are the medics who saved his life after he was shot by a sniper.

Another Sasine story: He saw that sniper take out a brother in arms, and when he raised his head up to shoot back, he was also hit, but not before he killed the sniper. (“If I saw it, I could hit it,” he says.)

After the sniper fell, fellow Marauders retrieved the rifle the sniper had used. Sasine took it apart and mailed it home to his father, piece by piece, so he now has the weapon that almost killed him.

Stanley Sasine holds a rifle recovered from an enemy sniper during World War II. The way Sasine tells the story, he and the sniper exchanged shots. He was wounded; the sniper was killed. BO EMERSON / BEMERSON@AJC.COM

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Telling these stories is easy now, but for many years, the soldier never breathed a word about his experiences. “It was too horrible,” he said. “Nobody would believe it.”

His memories bubbled up only during nightmares. “I would scream and holler, and my wife, Irene, would calm me down and wipe the sweat off me.”

Stanley and Irene Sasine won a million bucks in the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes back in 1994. Their lifestyle changed only a little bit: They played more golf. AJC FILE PHOTO

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The Sasines relocated to Atlanta after Stanley and his father bought a business down here, and the family grew.

Then, in 2010, grandson Adrian tricked him into spilling the beans, taking him to the StoryCorps booth at the Atlanta History Center to interview him on tape. Adrian didn't tell his granddad, nor anyone else in the family, where they were going, and he figured it was even money that Sasine would say, "Hell, no, turn this car around."

But Stanley Sasine opened up. “It was a great experience,” said Adrian. “We were in there for an hour and a half, and to our amazement, it got picked up nationally. It changed the man. He went home and slept without having a nightmare for the first time in 40 years.”

Said Stanley Sasine, “It was a relief. It took so much off my mind. I could finally talk a little.” All the medals and the memorabilia came out of hiding. And, as Adrian says, Stanley never stopped talking.

In 2012, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss found out that Sasine had never been awarded his Bronze Star, and made the presentation to one of the last surviving members of Merrill’s Marauders.

Irene, Stanley’s wife of more than 50 years, died two years ago, but despite some heart trouble of his own, Stanley is in good health, and enjoys a cocktail before supper.

He will make a tandem jump on Saturday, and the jumpmaster has rigged a device to help Stanley lift his feet at the last minute, to have, in effect, a “zero impact” landing.

“In all of us, there’s a piece of us that says, ‘God, I hope he doesn’t die,’” said Adrian. “But as long as the doctor says it’s OK — and luckily his son is the doctor — well, it’s OK.”