Benjamin Wilson Sammis – Captain, United States Marine Corps



United States Marine Corps Capt. Benjamin W. Sammis is pictured in this
undated family photograph released by his widow, Stacey Sammis April 7, 2003


Steve Sammis, receives a pat on the shoulder from his wife Beth after he read
a poem he wrote when their son, U.S. Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis, was
killed in action in Iraq. A crowd of supporters jopined in the reading.

REHOBOTH, Massachusetts, 18 May 2003 — Steve Sammis still remembers the chilling phone call he received informing him his son, a decorated United States Marine pilot, had been killed in war.

Sammis remembers the tears he shared with his wife, his children and his daughter-in-law.

He remembers the sadness when his son was laid to rest in a traditional military ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

And Sammis remembers the heartfelt support he has received from nearly an entire community, which has been quick to offer assistance, support and prayers. Support that continued during a solemn town ceremony yesterday in honor of U.S. Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis.

“My heart aches and my body has a wound that will never heal,” Sammis said of his feelings over the death of his son. “I know today I am not alone, there are so many people who share my very same wound.

“To all those who continue to offer support, I thank you.”

Yesterday, at a chilly and windy outdoor ceremony, more than 100 friends, family and supporters of America gathered at a town common to honor the life of Sammis and pray for a safe return of the dozen-plus solders from Rehoboth still serving in the military.

The hour-long ceremony included words of praise and support, songs of patriotism and pride and perhaps most importantly comfort to those still struggling to understand how a local man, believed destined for greatness, could see his life end early and tragically.

“As we all extend our gratitude for (Sammis’) service and sacrifice I make a promise to his family,” State Senator JoAnn Sprague, R-Walpole said. “A promise that we will always remember what he did not only for his family but for this entire country.”

The ceremony was organized by the town’s veterans department and included testimonials from various local and state officials. Children, parents, grandparents and even a great-grandparent attended to offer support. Members of all branches of military service were present, as were the parents of military soldiers in combat.

Among those honored was Michael Costello, who was awarded a two-star banner, honoring him for raising two children who presently serve in combat.

Members of the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School offered a selection of patriotic songs. The common used for the ceremony was once the site of a training ground for Massachusetts Militiamen who were preparing to fight the British during the United States’ fight for freedom during the American Revolution.

“We have the bravest and strongest men in the world providing protection for us all,” State Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth said. “But as we all know too well, protection comes with a price.

“Today is not a day of mourning, but a celebration of life for one man who followed the plan set forth by his heart.”

Sammis urged all those in attendance to follow a motto his son would often repeat time and time again. A motto that meant so much to Benjamin Sammis that he had it engraved on his Citadel graduation ring: “Thou mayest.”

“Ben always encouraged everyone to fulfill their dreams. Benjamin’s dream was to serve his country,” Sammis said. “We’re all very proud of him.”

There are still moments when Stacey Sammis imagines that life is proceeding as it was meant to proceed: her husband, Marine Captain Benjamin W. Sammis, is deployed overseas, flying missions over Iraq in a Super Cobra attack helicopter, thrilling to the job he was born to do.


Stacey and Benjamin W. Sammis in the yard of their home in Vista, Calif. The former Stacey Dancisin grew up in West Long Branch, where the couple married in 2000.  His absence makes sense; he is not supposed to be home yet.

And then she remembers.

“I'm never going to see his smiling face again,” Sammis, 29, said yesterday from her parents' home in Avon, the rims of her eyes red from grief.

On the evening of April 4, 2003, Stacey Sammis caught sight of a white military vehicle outside her home in Vista, California, and knew in an instant why they'd come: Ben was gone.

Two Marine officers, accompanied by a Navy chaplain, explained that Ben, 29, and another pilot had died hours earlier when their AH-1W attack helicopter crashed, presumably under enemy fire, during a combat mission 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, Sammis said.

The days since have been pure heartbreak, but Sammis said she and others who knew and loved her husband have taken pride and a measure of solace in the manner of his death.

“He died doing what he loved,” she said. “He died protecting this country and the people in it, and he died protecting the people of Iraq. That does bring some comfort.”

Sammis said hundreds of people have paid tribute to her husband's rare blend of courage, kindness and charm at a series of memorial services — one held at Camp Pendleton, the base just north of San Diego where his unit was based; one in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where he grew up; and a third at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where he was buried.

A fourth service will be held at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in West Long Branch, where Stacey and Benjamin were married 2 1/2 years ago.

Benjamin Sammis fell in love with helicopters, jets and the idea of flight as a young boy, and he dreamed of one day becoming a Marine, his wife said.

His dream came true in May 1996, when he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.

“Our son, Benjamin Sammis, loved to fly and loved the Corps as much as life itself,” his parents, Steven and Beth Sammis, said in a statement released earlier this month.

Stacey Dancisin and Benjamin Sammis met six years ago at a bar near Washington, D.C., when she was pursing a master's degree in speech pathology and he was in officer training at the Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.

After a second chance meeting, a friendship took hold, and soon became much more.

The couple were married in West Long Branch, where Stacey grew up, on September 2, 2000.

Stacey Sammis said she didn't worry when her husband deployed for Kuwait in January. He was an excellent pilot, a weapons tactical instructor who was highly regarded by his peers at the base, and this was the work he was trained to do, she said.

In a way, Stacey Sammis welcomed the deployment, knowing the disappointment her husband would have felt watching the war unfold on television, believing that he was meant to be there, putting his years of training to use.

“And he believed in what he was doing,” she said yesterday. “He believed in the cause he was fighting for.”

Now she thinks of everything she believed she could always look forward to. Ben arriving home from work in his flight suit, sending their black Labrador retriever, Bailey, into a frenzy. Ben exclaiming with a grin, “I can't believe they pay me to do this!” The two of them working in the yard together, or taking weekend trips to explore California. Ben's love of children and his unflagging sense of humor and the goofy songs he would sing.

She thinks of their plan to move back East and start a family of their own shortly after his return, and that may be the hardest thought of all.

“Now when I look at that picture, it's just one big, scary, blank page,” Sammis said. “And I don't have my best friend to go through it with.”

A memorial fund has been established at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina, where Sammis graduated in 1996. The fund will go toward a scholarship for a student who plans to become a Marine officer. Gifts may be sent to the Sammis Memorial Fund, The Citadel Foundation, 171 Moultrie St., Charleston, South Carolina 29409.

20 April 2003:

The life of Captain Benjamin W. Sammis was celebrated and his death mourned yesterday at a memorial service in Newman Congregational Church.

Captain Sammis, a 29-year-old Marine from Rehoboth who was killed in Iraq earlier this month, was buried last week in Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors.

Hundreds of people packed the church, which set up additional seating and a video link to broadcast the service in another room to accommodate the crowd.

The overwhelming loss felt at Sammis's death was palpable in the church, where mourners heard tales of his life and spirit from friends, family and fellow Marines. Muffled sobs could be heard from the crowd, even as a 21-gun salute was fired and taps was played in the sunshine outside.

Steven B. Sammis, the soldier's father, told the assembly from the pulpit that many others shared the pain he felt.

“This sorrow hits with a devastating thrust in the core of my soul,” Sammis said.

Captain Sammis — who was killed along with his copilot when his helicopter crashed around April 5 — had wanted to fly ever since he was a child.

“Many years ago, a small boy was overwhelmed with a dream to become a pilot,” his father said yesterday.

Captain Sammis had been in combat for 16 days when the Cobra helicopter he was piloting crashed southeast of Baghdad, said Capt. Aaron Marx, a friend and fellow Marine, in the eulogy. They were operating in a “dangerous environment,” he said, in which the attack helicopter they were in had been exposed to enemy ground fire. The two pilots responded to that fire, Marx said, adding that he believed “there are Marines alive today” because of their actions.

Some of the people assembled in the church yesterday told stories of Ben Sammis, the sailor, husband, son and brother.

One man brought a message from a friend and minister to Captain Sammis's wife's family. The message read that Captain Sammis was “every mother's answered prayer that a good, decent man would love her child.”

Someone else remembered how Ben, as a sailing instructor at the Barrington Yacht Club, helped a young boy, whose boat had capsized, get out of the water, then coaxed the terrified child back the next day and taught him how to sail.

Another man, a Marine, spoke of the strength of Captain Sammis's convictions:

“In a world where decision makers live in the gray, Ben knew right from wrong,” the soldier told mourners. “This country lost a great man.”


Fallen Rehoboth soldier Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis was buried yesterday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral service at the Fort Myer, Virginia, chapel.

“It's the final thank you our nation can give when a soldier's made the ultimate sacrifice,” Rehoboth Veterans Agent Richard Luthi said.

Sammis, 29, a Cobra helicopter pilot stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, was killed in action over Iraq on April 5, 2003.

Luthi said visiting Arlington National Cemetery is a powerful experience, especially at the changing of the Honor Guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The guards patrol 24-hours a day, seven days a week. They are an elite group of soldiers from the U.S. Army's Third Battalion. Always in dress blues, they take their duty very seriously, he said.

Their vigilance is a symbolic acknowledgment of the great sacrifice made by the soldiers buried at Arlington, said Luthi, who knows Sammis's father Steven from their days serving on town boards.

“It's the highest honor service people can get to be buried on the hallowed grounds of Arlington,” Luthi said.

Luthi said he's not aware of any other Rehoboth residents buried in Arlington, though there may be others from earlier generations, he said.

Friends of the Sammis family have described Ben as someone who had wanted to fly since he was 10 years old.

One of three sons, Sammis was an Eagle Scout and loved sailing out of the yacht club in Barrington, Rhode Island. He graduated from The Citadel military college in South Carolina in 1996, majoring in civil engineering, before beginning a career in the Marine Corps.

Luthi said he was deeply saddened by news of Sammis's death.

A U.S. Army veteran who retired after 22 years of service, Luthi had the sobering assignment of survivor assistance officer during the Vietnam War.

It was his job to make the initial notification when a soldier was killed in action and provide the family with assistance through burial and beyond.

It was tough duty but it meant a lot to him to provide support for families at such a painful and difficult time, he said.

“Usually when they see you coming to the door, they know,” he said.

Luthi recalled one particular case in Dighton that still gives him goose bumps.

Luthi could see the soldier's mother through the windows of her front door. She was shaking her head “no” and telling him he had the wrong house.

But he knew he had the right house.

At times like that, it was difficult to maintain his composure, but he knew he had to be strong for the families who needed him, he said.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Funerals held for Citadel graduate, fellow Marine from Massachusetts

WASHINGTON–Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis, a 1996 graduate of The Citadel, was one of two Marines killed in Iraq who were buried Wednesday.

Marine Lieutenant Brian McPhillips, who was killed during a firefight in central Iraq on April 7, was buried in his hometown of Rockland, Massachusetts.

Sammis, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral service at the Fort Myers chapel in Virginia.

The service was closed to members of the media.

Sammis, 29, a Cobra helicopter pilot who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, was killed in action April 5.

Friends of the Sammis family have described him as someone who had wanted to fly since he was 10 years old.

One of three sons, Sammis was an Eagle Scout and loved sailing out of the yacht club in nearby Barrington, Rhode Island.

He joined the Marine Corps after graduation.

At McPhillips' service, Marine Captain Chris Shaw, who had recruited McPhillips, said, “He wanted to join to serve, he wanted to join because he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself, and he wanted to help people around the world.”

“Freedom isn't free. For us it's no longer just a slogan to put on our bumper sticker,” said McPhillips' father, David McPhillips, who is a former Marine and served in Vietnam.

David McPhillips also said his son was “much more” than a hero and a Marine, recalling time the two spent playing and exploring the outdoors.

He also recalled his son's religious faith, saying he had gone to war with rosary beads and a crucifix.

McPhillips, 25, who grew up in Pembroke, was assigned to the 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Marine Corps Captain Benjamin W. Sammis, 29, a career Marine who was killed in action during Operation Iraqi freedom, was buried with full military honors yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. in Newman Congregational Church, 100 Newman Ave., Rumford, East Providence.

Captain Sammis was the husband of Stacy (Dancisin) Sammis. He was born in Providence, a son of Steven B. and Beth L. (Salve) Sammis.

He died on or about April 5, 2003, when the Cobra attack helicopter he was flying crashed over central Iraq, according to the Marine Corps. The crash is under investigation.

In a statement after their son's death, Steven and Beth Sammis said their son “loved to fly and loved the Corps as much as life itself. Ben was a true patriot and made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. We will be forever proud of him and the character he held so true.” They ended their statement with, “To his fellow Marines: Semper Fi.” The Marine Corps slogan, Semper Fidelis, means “always faithful.”

Captain Sammis had dreamed of flying jets and helicopters since he was 10 years old. He earned his Wings of Gold in 1999, while flying F-18 jets.

He had been an avid sailor who enjoyed racing with his father, and was an Eagle Scout.

He graduated from Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School in 1992. While in high school, he was a starting sweeper for the soccer team, a member of the school chorus who won acceptance to the Southeastern Massachusetts District Choral. He was elected as an alternate to the annual Student Government Day.

He graduated from the Citadel in 1996, completing the five-year bachelor's degree program in civil engineering in four years.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in May 1996.

He was assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 in November 1999. He graduated from the weapons and tactics instructor's course in October 2002.

In January, 2003, Captain Sammis deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

While growing up, he was an avid sailor and sailboat racer who sailed with his family on their boat Beth. He was a current service member of the Barrington Yacht Club, a membership designation for those in military service.

He had been an instructor in the club's junior sailing program and had been invited as a crewmember on many of the club's boats while racing in Narragansett Bay and in other local waters.

Besides his parents, he leaves two brothers, Jeffrey Page Sammis of Freeport, Maine, and Adam Howard Sammis of Raleigh, N.C.; a nephew, Cullen Benjamin Sammis of Freeport, who was born last Thursday; his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth (Beugling) Salve Grassie; and his step-grandfather, Everett Grassie.

Bay State soldiers laid to rest
16 April 2003

A pair of Massachusetts natives who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom will be buried today.

Brian McPhillips of Pembroke was killed earlier this month during a firefight in Central Iraq. A service will be held in Rockland.

Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony will include a military fly-over.

The first Bay State resident killed in the war was laid to rest yesterday.

8 April 2003

Area veterans seek to honor Sammis

REHOBOTH, MASSACHUSETTS — It’s been 20 years, yet the pain still exists.
For the members of the American Legion Post 302, it has been more than 20 years since the club honored a fallen soldier killed in the line of duty. Now, with news a local man has died, the club’s devoted veterans will again assemble to honor a hero who died all too soon.

They’ll do so with heavy hearts.

United States Marine Captain Benjamin W. Sammis, 29, of Rehoboth, was killed Saturday during military action over central Iraq. He is the second soldier from Massachusetts killed in Iraq and the first man from Rehoboth killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

“I never thought I would be a part of another ceremony honoring one of our own,” American Legion Senior Vice Commander Ken Abrams said. “It’s shocking and even more painful.”

The local group of veterans at the Legion have made it a policy to honor all soldiers from the town who have been killed in combat. The last ceremony organized by the post was for Craig Waterman, who served in the Air Force when he was killed in the Vietnam War.

Members of the American Legion recalled Sammis as a devoted soldier who cared deeply for his family and country. A graduate of Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School, Sammis was actively involved in the community. He was a former Eagle Scout.

Sammis’ death is a harsh reminder of the dangers involved in war.

Vietnam Veteran David Levesque was fortunate to survive his service, but many of his friends were not so fortunate. Thirteen men from Taunton are believed to have died in the Vietnam War.

“It’s a very tough situation on the families,” Levesque said. “Obviously the news is devastating.”

Levesque said it would be likely that the members of the Taunton Area Vietnam Veterans Association would want to hold a memorial service honoring Sammis. Levesque said it was likely such a service could be held near the St. Mary’s Square memorial, which honors local members of the Persian Gulf War.

Members of the Rehoboth American Legion have yet to speak to Sammis’ family, but the group expects to in the upcoming days. The Legion has decided to offer use of its honor guard at Sammis’ funeral if one is held locally.

Sammis is eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

7 April 2003:

Marine Captain Benjamin W. Sammis – brother of locally known sailing coach Adam Sammis – was killed in action Friday in Iraq.

Captain Sammis, 29, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, died when his AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter crashed during combat operations near Ali Aziziyal, the U.S. Department of Defense said.

He was a sailor, an Eagle Scout, a military school graduate and a career Marine who had yearned to fly helicopters and jets since he was 10, said family spokesman Bruce Morris.

His parents – Steven and Beth Sammis of Rehoboth – said in a prepared statement that Capt. Sammis “loved the Corps as much as life itself.”

April 2003:

BOSTON — A Marine officer from Massachusetts is the second graduate of The Citadel to die in the war in Iraq.

Captain Benjamin Sammis, 29, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was killed in a helicopter crash Saturday over central Iraq, authorities said.

Sammis was a 1996 graduate of The Citadel, where he majored in civil engineering, said Patricia McArver, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina military college.

“The Citadel family feels this loss keenly, and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his wife and the Sammis family,” Citadel President Major General John Grinalds said.

Grinalds' youngest son also is a Cobra helicopter pilot in the Marines.

Sammis is the second graduate of The Citadel to die in the war. Therrel Shane Childers, who graduated in 2001, was killed March 21, 2003.

Sammis was following the path he had set for himself from childhood, recalled a family friend.

“This is what he wanted to do, to serve his country,” said Bruce Morris. “He had been training for years for it.”

Sammis' parents, Steve and Beth Sammis of Rehoboth, said their son loved to fly and loved the Marine Corps “as much as life itself.”

Sammis was an Eagle Scout who enjoyed flying and sailing. He liked racing sailboats, participated in The Citadel's sailing club and became a sailing instructor.

“His goal was to get into The Citadel, where he could work toward his commission to get into the Marine Corps,” Morris said.

Sammis met his wife, Stacey, while the two were in basic training. She issued a statement describing him as a gentle, loving and kind man who loved flying and his country.

Sammis, stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, flew a Cobra helicopter and jets for the military. “He was living his dream,” Morris said. “He really, really loved flying.”

Stacey Sammis hopes to create a memorial fund at The Citadel for future cadets, McArver said.

8 April 2003:

Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis, 29, was killed early Saturday in Iraq. Sammis was a 1996 Citadel graduate.

Charleston A second graduate of The Citadel has died in the war in Iraq. Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis, 29, was killed in a helicopter crash Saturday over central Iraq, authorities said.

Sammis was a 1996 graduate of The Citadel, where he majored in civil engineering, said Patricia McArver, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina military college.

“The Citadel family feels this loss keenly, and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his wife and the Sammis family,” Citadel President Major General John Grinalds said.

Grinalds' youngest son also is a Cobra helicopter pilot in the Marines.

Sammis is the second alumnus of The Citadel to die in the war. Therrel Shane Childers, who graduated in 2001, was killed March 21.

Sammis was following the path he had set for himself from childhood, recalled a family friend. “This is what he wanted to do, to serve his country,” Bruce Morris said. “He had been training for years for it.”

Sammis' parents, Steve and Beth Sammis of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, said their son loved to fly and loved the Marine Corps “as much as life itself.”

Sammis met his wife, Stacey, while the two were in basic training. She issued a statement describing him as a gentle, loving and kind man who loved flying and his country.

Sammis, stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, flew a Cobra helicopter and jets. “He was living his dream,” Morris said. “He really, really loved flying.”

Citadel grad dies in Iraq

As a boy, Benjamin Sammis was an Eagle Scout, enjoyed sailing and told his parents he wanted to fly planes.

When he grew up, he joined the Marine Corps, became a captain and flew jets and helicopters. He earned a degree in engineering at The Citadel, the South Carolina military college and moved to a suburb near Camp Pendleton and met his wife Stacey during basic training.

Sammis, 29, died Saturday when the Super Cobra gunship he was flying crashed in Iraq, authorities said.

In the suburb of Vista where Sammis and his wife moved in 1999, relatives and neighbors huddled in privacy Monday, declining telephone requests for an interview.

“Sometimes in life you are lucky enough to find and marry your best friend. Ben and I were that lucky. Ben is the most gentle, loving and kind man. He loved flying and he loved his country. Please continue to support our troops,” Stacey Sammis said in a joint statement issued with his parents, Steve and Beth Sammis of Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

“Our son, Benjamin Sammis … loved to fly and loved the Corps as much as life itself. We are devastated by our loss, as we are for all who have lost loved ones. We will be forever proud of him and the character he held so true,” the statement said.

Family members of Captain Travis Ford, whose death was confirmed by the Pentagon on Sunday, said Sammis died in the same crash as Ford, 30. The Ford family was told the chopper crashed while returning from a mission near Baghdad. It was unclear if it came under enemy fire.

Sammis, who grew up in up in Rehoboth, was a 1996 graduate of The Citadel, where he majored in civil engineering, said Patricia McArver, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina military college.

“The Citadel family feels this loss keenly, and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his wife and the Sammis family,” said Citadel President Major General John Grinalds, whose youngest son also is a Cobra helicopter pilot in the Marines.

Stacey Sammis hopes to create a memorial fund at The Citadel for future cadets, McArver said.

Memories fill fabric of widow’s quilt
Quilting group stitches blanket from shirts of Marine killed in combat
12 May 2004

After Stacey Sammis’ husband, Captain Benjamin W. Sammis, a Marine pilot, was killed in combat in Iraq a year ago, she couldn’t bring herself to dispose of his clothes. She didn’t want to throw them out, she didn’t want to give them to charity. She wanted to be able to touch them, to bring her closer to him.

“Before I moved from California, I would snuggle up to his clothes in the closet,” she recalled.

“But,” she said, “I didn’t want to bring them into my new house.”

Sammis, a graduate of Shore Regional High School who grew up in West Long Branch, said she posed her dilemma to the pastor of the church in which she was married, the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in West Long Branch, and asked him what she should do with the clothes.

“He suggested making a quilt out of them,” she related.

She said the pastor urged her to contact Francine Yamello, a member of the congregation, whom he knew to be a quilter. Sammis’ family was acquainted with Yamello so she approached her about how to get a quilt made. Yamello took that question back to her quilting group, the Rebecca’s Reel Quilters of Poricy Park in Middletown, who readily agreed to make the quilt she wanted.

The result is a colorful “memory quilt” that one of the quilters, Janine Allen, explained is made of Ben Sammis’ shirts and is bound with a binding made out of his jump suit.

“There’s a pocket in the back made out of his fleece jacket,” Allen added. “She might want to keep letters or other momentoes in the pocket. Or she can fold the quilt into the pocket and make a pillow.”

Sammis said the many colors come from her husband’s Hawaiian, plaid and striped shirts.

Allen and Yamello brought the quilt to the home of Sammis’ parents, Michael and Joyce Dancisin in Avon, on Sunday while she was spending the Mother’s Day weekend with them on a visit from her new home in Alexandria, Va.

“It’s gorgeous,” Sammis said. “It’s wonderful.”

“First, I just want to hug it,” she said. “My mother said I should hang it on the wall. I think I’ll hug it for a while, and then, maybe, I’ll hang it on the wall.”

The Rebecca’s Reel Quilters are keeping the quilt they made for Sammis for another week so that they can display it with other their quilts they made in a show this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Poricy Park on Oak Hill Road in Middletown. The hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Allen said there will be both traditional and contemporary quilts on display and for sale along with a number of 36-by-36-inch quilts interpreting the show’s theme “Into the Woods.”

The quilt that the Rebecca’s Reel group made for Sammis bears a label on the back that reads, “In memory of Capt. Benjamin Wilson Sammis, USMC, made by the ladies of Rebecca’s Reel Quilters of Poricy Park in 2004 in Middletown, N.J.

Capt. Sammis was killed with another pilot when their helicopter crashed on April 5, 2003, during a combat mission 30 miles southeast of Baghdad during the formally declared hostilities in Iraq.

Both he and his widow were 29 at the time. She has since turned 30.

Asked her thoughts on the conflict in Iraq today, Sammis said she wants to see what her husband and others like him began carried through to a successful conclusion. She noted that more than 700 Americans have now died in the war effort and she hoped it wouldn’t be in vain.

She noted that President Bush had said “we’re going to be finishing what the fallen have fought for” and said that was the message she had for Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when she had the opportunity to meet him.

“I told him just promise me that we’re going to finish it,” she said.

Sammis and her husband lived in Vista, Calif., where her husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton. She said he was attached to the HMLA (Helicopter Marine Light Attack) 267 squadron, which was known as “The Stingers.” His radio call name, which she gave him, was “Pokey.”

After his death, she returned to New Jersey where she lived with her parents for a while before striking out on her own to make a new life in Alexandria, Va. She acquired a townhouse in August and holds down two jobs as a speech pathologist — one with the Arlington School District and the other with the Fairfax County Health Department — working with pre-school children.

Sammis said the Washington, D.C., area holds “warm memories” for her. It’s where she met her husband, where she attended graduate school, and where she has many friends.

One of those is a friend going back to their kindergarten days together. She is Sarah Deisinger, daughter of West Long Branch Councilman William R. Deisinger.

It’s also where her husband is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sammis said she has with her the black Labrador retriever, Bailey, that she and her husband owned. “He even comes to the cemetery with me,” she reported.

Her life is full as she goes about her jobs, tries to get her townhouse together, sees her friends and looks forward to spending some summer weekends at the Jersey Shore with her family.

“I want Ben to be proud of me,” she said. “And I think he is.”

VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 09/10/1996 – 04/04/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 03/18/1974
DATE OF DEATH: 04/05/2003

By Bob Faw
NBC Correspondent
Today show
27 January 2005

Ben was the love of Stacey’s life. In 2003, when Marine Captain Benjamin Sammis, a helicopter pilot, was killed in Iraq, Stacey was devastated — emotionally, and financially.

Since Ben, 29, had not bought the $250,000 life insurance policy the military makes available, the death benefit the government paid his widow was just $6,000.

“I guess it did seem kind of low,” said Sammis. “I mean, I'm not getting my husband back, and here's a $6,000 check. I guess, at that time, it seemed a little absurd.”

That figure has now been raised to just over $12,400, but Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., says it's still too low. He's campaigning for the benefit to be raised to $100,000.

“We spend billions and billions of dollars on things that never work,” said Hagel. “Certainly to invest in our people, in our warrior's families, seems to me the least we can do.”

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, headquartered on the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, tries to add on to the government’s benefit and provide grieving military families with extra assistance. Relying solely on private contributions, it gives $11,000 to each surviving spouse and $5,000 for each dependent child.

“There's nothing that can replace the loss these families feel — the loss of a father, mother, daughter or son,” said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. “In some small way we can say thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.”

For spouses like Sammis, who moved from California to be near her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery, it is impossible to assign a dollar figure to any life.

“Every day I wake up, I deal with it,” said Sammis. “Every second of every day, I think about what's missing in my life.”

But she believes that raising the $12,400 figure would be appropriate.

“I'm proud of him. And he went willingly,” she said. “However, he needs to be paid for the sacrifice.”

A life lost, a marriage destroyed, and a crying need, many argue, for a government to do more.

31 October 2005:
Courtesy of the Asbury Park Press

Penelope Stechmann peered into the eyes of Ben and Stacey Sammis after they had just exchanged marriage vows in a September 2, 2000, ceremony, and noticed the sparkle of love. She had married numerous couples as pastor of the Lutheran Church of Reformation in West Long Branch, and seen countless expressions of joy and devotion.

But this one was different.

“Professionally, I just knew this was one wedding that was made in heaven,” said Stechmann. “It was meant to be, a guaranteed union. One that would last 60, 70 years.”

Today, Stacey Sammis maintains a fierce, deep-rooted love for her husband, but it is in spirit only. Tragically, Marine Captain Benjamin W. Sammis was killed on April 4, 2003, when a Super Cobra attack helicopter he was piloting crashed during a combat mission 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, according to the Marine Corps.

He was 29 years old.

Sammis, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral service at the Fort Myers chapel in Virginia. Stacey has moved to Alexandria, Virginia, near where the couple first met in 1997, in order to be close to her husband.

“Ben always used to kid me that if he died first he wanted to be buried in New Jersey so he could be close to me,” said Stacey, a speech pathologist for the Arlington, Virginia, public schools. “When I found out he was going to be buried at Arlington, I said, “I'm going there, too.' “

Over two years have passed since Ben's death, but Stacey, now 32, still struggles to make some sense of it — to understand how someone so young, so gifted, so dedicated to others could have his life end so tragically. Stacey visits Ben's grave twice a month, a ritual she says allows her to “connect with him in a peaceful, tranquil way.”

It is only when she goes with other people that raw emotions spill out.

“I took a friend who had never been to Arlington before, and when we got to Ben's grave it all spilled out, again,” said Stacey, a West Long Branch native. “Those are the hardest moments for me.”

Ben developed a love affair with planes when he was 10 years old, and dreamed of one day becoming a Marine, Stacey said. His dream became reality in May 1996 when he was commissioned a second lieutenant.

In January 2003, Sammis was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He had been in combat for 16 days when the Cobra attack helicopter he was piloting became exposed to an enemy ground attack and he responded with fire, according to Capt. Aaron Marx, a friend and fellow Marine.

“There are Marines alive today because of his actions,” Marx said.

Stacey Sammis said she takes a measure of solace from the manner in which Ben died.

“He died doing what he loved,” she said. “He wanted to be there. He wanted to put into practice what he had learned, and he wanted to help the people of Iraq. That does bring some comfort.”

Joyce Dancisin, Stacey's mother, said she could tell from the very start that Ben was a special person.

“When I met him, I said to Penny (Stechmann), “This is the one,' ” said Dancisin, of Avon. “The way he treated my daughter was the way every mother would want her daughter treated. He was kind, considerate and very loving. His focus was always on Stacey. I knew his job was dangerous, but . . . I knew he was a good man.”

Four memorial services were held for Sammis, including one at Lutheran Church of Reformation in West Long Branch, where Ben and Stacey were married.

Stechmann called Sammis a “true officer and gentleman,” and said he possessed a great sense of humor. She recalled a Christmas celebration at Stacey's parents' home in Avon to illustrate his compassion.

“There was Ben, the warrior, on the floor playing with our 5-year-old son Tim (Pusateri), who has Down syndrome,” said Stechmann. “He was tickling him, able to relate to him immediately. He noticed this was a child who needed attention, and he gave it to him.”

In a ceremony held in May 2003 at Rehoboth, Massachusetts, Steve Sammis told of the pain he felt in losing his son.

“My heart aches and my body has a wound that will never heal,” he said. “I know today I am not alone. There are so many people who share my very same wound.”

Stacey said the outpouring of love for Ben at the memorial services, and the support she received during that “absolutely horrible time,” is something she will never forget.

“Each service was packed. There were people there that I hadn't seen in years, and there were complete strangers,” Stacey said. “I got letters, cards, flowers from people I didn't know, some from as far away as Colorado. You have to remember that the war had just begun back then and everyone was on pins and needles. They desperately wanted to do something to honor Ben.”

Stacey gathered her emotions for a moment and added, “Knowing that so many people loved Ben and were there to support me is heartwarming. I just hope that today's soldiers get that kind of support when they come home.”

A son's dedication, a family's pride … and grief
Sunday, March 16, 2008 12:33 AM EDT
Courtesy of the Attelboro Sun Chronicle

 For most of his life, Ben Sammis lived to fly. But the dream that eventually led him to become a heroic Marine Cobra helicopter pilot actually began on the water.

A chance meeting with a naval aviator during a sailing trip when he was about 10 years old fired the young boy's thirst for aviation and dreams of flying jets, his father recalled.

“We were cruising off Newport, near Brenton Point, when we came upon a boat that was having engine trouble,” said Steve Sammis, a veteran sailor who regularly sailed with his family in New England waters. “We helped them out. The skipper turned out to be a Navy officer and a pilot.”

Steve Sammis remembers that Ben, the middle of three Sammis boys, was captivated listening to the Navy pilot's account of the kick-in-the-pants thrill of a jet takeoff.

Ben was all about flying after that, Sammis said, later enrolling in The Citadel and eventually choosing a career as a U.S. Marine aviator.

The 29-year-old pilot, along with a fellow Marine, was killed five years ago on April 4, when his Cobra gunship struck a camouflaged obstruction during a combat mission in Iraq. Less than a month into war, the Marine captain was the first serviceman from the Attleboro area to die in Iraq.

Later, Steve Sammis and his wife, Beth, would hear from Ben's friends and fellow aviators about how they had depended on their son, how he had touched their lives and how they admired him.

After a memorial service in his honor, more than one classmate claimed it was Ben who had kept them from quitting, or “ringing the bell,” their first year at The Citadel. They continue to receive notes and calls to this day.

“Some of Ben's fellow Marines said they have a saying in times of stress, ‘WWBD'- What Would Ben Do?” Sammis said. “That's what they thought of him.”

Sammis, who along with his wife were interviewed at Arlington National Cemetery last year for an NECN documentary about fallen soldiers and Marines, said he has been struck by the common strain of dedication and service to others that runs through the biographies of so many.

Ben was no exception.

An Eagle Scout, Ben was a team player. When a fellow hiker had trouble on a mountainous hike in New Hampshire, it was young Ben who took charge of the scout and his gear to help him down. A starter on the Dighton-Rehoboth soccer team, he was a stalwart, 196-pound defender who was typically more interested in protecting an injured teammate than taking part in the celebration at the end of a victory.

Nevertheless, Ben was a carefree teenager, his father recalled. A “C” or “C-plus” student during his early high school career, Ben worked weekends at the former Taunton Expo, a dog racing track that had been converted into a flea market. Because he was too young to drive, his parents would drop him off at the track at 5:30 a.m.

Ben evolved from a helper to organizing the placement of outdoor vendor displays. And like that accidental meeting with the Navy officer off Newport, Ben's job would also have an unexpected feature.

It turned out, Sammis said, that the owner of the business was a graduate of the Citadel and had been an Army helicopter pilot.

As time went on, Ben became more focused in high school and ended up graduating with honors in 1992. He then enrolled at the Citadel, the legendary South Carolina military collegeand completed a five-year engineering program there in four years.

In his junior year, he made the decision to join the Marines and took his physical in Chicopee. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant.

By 1999, Ben had earned his flight wings, having finished first in his training class. His achievement placed him in the top 3 percent of naval aviators who had ever graduated.

Although he dreamed of jets, the young Rehoboth officer switched his preference to attack helicopters when it was plain that F-18 seats would be scarce.

If Ben was disappointed, Sammis said, it didn't show.

Flashing a wry grin that his father knew well, Ben put it good naturedly:

“Dad, I can do in a helicopter anything an F-18 can do – at 50 feet.”

Ben was particularly proud of the gold Marine flight wings his parents pinned on him at the graduation ceremony. They are now framed below a pencil drawing of a Cobra gunship at his parents' home.

By the middle of 2001, Ben was a squadron electronics officer aboard the USS Boxer cruising in the Pacific. Late that summer, Steve Sammis was accorded the honor of visiting the ship. During a jog on the deck that morning, Sammis was startled by the Captain's announcement that a plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. It was September 11.

Sammis, his son and others watched first on a laptop computer and then a TV screen as the destruction unfolded in New York. As the realization dawned that America was under attack, Ben sought to comfort his distressed father.

“He put his hand on my shoulder and called me ‘Papa Bear,'” Sammis said.

By January, Capt. Ben Sammis and his fellow Marine Corps pilots were in the Middle East.

When war in Iraq finally broke out, Ben was in the thick of it, providing air support to Marines on the ground and often in jeopardy from anti-aircraft guns. On April 4, Ben and his crew had already flown support for several hours when word came in of ground troops in trouble. Ben volunteered to go along on the three-helicopter mission.

Visibility was bad because of a fuel tank fire and weather conditions. The potential for ground fire and electrical towers shrouded by smoke posed a constant hazard to the fliers. Ben's helicopter trailed the other two in the formation.

At some point in the flight, Ben's Cobra clipped the edge of a hidden tower with the leading edge of one of its rotor blades.

Ben and Travis Ford, his weapons officer, were killed in the crash. Ground investigators said it appeared the crew had been attempting to steer the stricken chopper away from a populated area as it fell.

Ben was awarded the Air Medal with “V” for valor, a distinction of which his family has only recently become aware. According to the young pilot's citations, it wasn't the only time Capt. Sammis had acted heroically. On two occasions, Sammis probably saved lives of other aviators by preventing a midair collision and using a laser to designate a landing area for a fellow pilot who was in trouble.

At a memorial service, friends and fellow servicemen remembered Ben Sammis as a brave and caring comrade with a can-do spirit – someone who could be depended upon when the chips were down.

Besides his parents, Ben left behind Stacy, his wife of 2 years, and two brothers, Jeffrey and Adam. Stacy has since remarried.

Steve Sammis read a poem at the service he called “Thou Mayest” after a Biblical expression. The father quoted it often to the son whenever the young man faced a challenge or task that seemed impossibly challenging. It means that if you believe with all your heart, you can do it.

Sammis still believes. And he believes especially in servicemen and women who, like Ben, continue to serve in what he considers a struggle for humanity and to lift the Iraqi people out of oppression.

“They're going there willingly, they work under terrible conditions and they're doing it so they can help people live lives that are a little better than what they have,” Sammis said.






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