July 30, 2009:
A Purple Heart, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Bronze Star are the tangible acknowledgements of Colonel Robert R. Sawhill's exemplary military career.
He received commendations for service and leadership in the Vietnam War.
But the Carnegie, Pennsylvania, native and retired Air Force Colonel, who died last month at the age of 78, was much more than medals and commendations.
Family members describe him as a “hometown boy,” a simple, humble man who loved his family, golf and a good cigar.
Most of the time, he was smiling.
Sawhill enjoyed sports. He played football and basketball at Carnegie High School.
He is described by those who knew him as “caring,” “loving,” “generous,” and “thoughtful.”
His wife of 34 years, Roni, puts it in a single sentence.
“He loved his family, and wanted to be with them as much as possible,” she said.
A memorial service for Sawhill was held at the Church of the Nativity in Crafton last weekend.
A memorial service also was held recently in Jacksonville, Florida.
Sawhill will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on September 23, 2009.
Sawhill attended the University of Pittsburgh and after graduation was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force through the ROTC program in the summer of 1952.
Much of his career was spent in the Air Defense Command.
Following a tour in Japan, Sawhill went to Tactical Air Command in 1965 and was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base near Jacksonville, Florida, for two years.
He would return to Jacksonville to live in retirement until his death on June 26, 2009.
In May 1967, he was deployed to Southeast Asia. Two months later, he was shot down over Vietnam.
He was detained as a prisoner of war at the notorious Hanoi Hilton, where future Republican Senator John McCain was a POW.
He wrote to his family occasionally. In some of his letters, he asked for coffee and tobacco.
Sawhill was a POW for five and a half years.
By the time he came home in 1973, he would talk about his experiences when asked.
“I've heard stories about those experiences bothering most POWs, and I could see why it would,” said Sawhill's niece, Amy Janocha of Rosslyn Farms.
“But he would talk about it if you asked him. He just didn't like to volunteer it.”
And after his long ordeal as a POW, the family said they saw no changes in Sawhill's personality.
“None,” said his sister,” Phyllis. “He was the same brother I always had. We were very close and that did not change.”
Despite all of the honors bestowed upon him for his military heroics, Sawhill did not enjoy the limelight.
He simply wanted to be around his family and play golf.
“He always said he wanted to just be himself, and that's what he did,” Roni said.
“I've lost my best friend.”
July 23, 2009:
Colonel Robert R. Sawhill Jr., of Jacksonville, Florida, and a native of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, passed away on June 26, 2009. He was 78.
He was a retired Air Force Colonel who served in the Vietnam War and was a prisoner of war for five and a half years. Among the honors bestowed upon him were the Purple Heart, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Bronze Star.
He also received numerous commendations for service and leadership.
Colonel Sawhill was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and received his commission into the U. S. Air Force upon completion of the ROTC program.
He enjoyed playing golf and traveling to visit friends and family.
He is survived by his wife, Ronda, sister Phyllis S. Janocha (Carnegie), and brothers David L. Sawhill (Philadelphia), and John D. Sawhill (Port Orange, Florida). In addition to his immediate family, he was a loving uncle to Karen L. Walker, Frank J. Janocha Jr. , Priscilla A. Hagan, Stephen R. Janocha, and Amy J. Janocha.
Relatives also include Christopher S. Sawhill, Dr. Kathryn A. Sawhill, David L. Sawhill, Jr., James K. Sawhill (deceased), Alexander R. Sawhill (deceased) and Alison L. Sawhill.
A memorial service was held in Jacksonville.
A service will be held in Pittsburgh on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Church of the Nativity in Crafton, with a reception to follow at Chartiers Country Club.
A service at Arlington National Cemetery is tentatively scheduled for September 23, 2009, at 3 p.m. and is dependent on a fly-over request.
SAWHILL, ROBERT RALSTON
RIP – June 26, 2009
Name: Robert Ralston Sawhill
Rank/Branch: O4/United States Air Force
Unit: 555th TFS
Home City of Record: Carnegie, Pennsylvania
Date of Loss: 23 August 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 210500 North 1055500 East
Status (in 1973): Returnee
Other Personnel in Incident: Gerald Gerndt, returnee
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
REMARKS: 730314 RELEASED BY DRV
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors).
UPDATE – 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
ROBERT R. SAWHILL
Colonel – United States Air Force
Shot Down: August 23, 1967
Released: March 14, 1973
I was commissioned in the Air Force through the ROTC program in the summer of 1952 after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. Most of my career was spent in the Air Defense Command. After a tour in Japan I went to
Tactical Air Command in 1965. While at TAC I was stationed at Eglin AFB, Florida where I spent two years. in May 1967 I went to Southeast Asia.
I was shot down near Hanoi on 23 August 1967. I spent the next five and a half years in camps in and around Hanoi. Like most of the returning POWs, I believe that my faith in God was the one driving motive that kept me, and I am sure, a lot of us; going. I believe that the great group of guys that we had together in Hanoi sustained each other and themselves in a manner which permitted us to come out of Hanoi in as good shape as we were or are.
I plan to continue my career in the Air Force. I have been assigned to ICAF (Industrial College of the Armed Forces) and hope to get back into the cockpit of an F4 as well as the F-15. But right now I just want to get used to being a human being again, visit my family, renew some old acquaintances and see an awful lot of people who I met in Hanoi. I plan to travel quite a bit. I'm trying to keep out of the limelight as much as possible. There seem to be enough spokesmen for what went on there in the prison system and I would just as soon let them handle all the gory details.
Robert Sawhill retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel. He and his wife Roni resided in South Carolina until his death.
SAWHILL, ROBERT R. JR — of Jacksonville, Florida, passed away Friday, June 26, 2009 at age 78. Robert was a retired Air Force Colonel who served in the Vietnam War and was a Prisoner of War for a period of five and a half years. He received the Purple Heart and numerous other awards including the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Bronze Star. He also received numerous commendations for service and leadership.
He was graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and received his commission into the U. S. Air Force upon completion of the ROTC program. Robert enjoyed playing golf and traveling to visit friends and family.
He is survived by his wife Ronda and sister Phyllis (Pennsylvania), and John D. Sawhill (Port Orange, Florida). In addition to his immediate family, he was the loving uncle to Karen L. Walker, Frank J. Janocha, Jr., Priscilla A. Hagan, Stephen R. Janocha, and Amy J. Janocha. Also Christopher S. Sawhill, Dr. Kathryn A. Sawhill, David L. Sawhill, Jr., James K. Sawhill (deceased), Alexander R. Sawhill (deceased) and Alison L. Sawhill.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the McGraw Community Hospice at 4266 Sunbeam Rd. Jacksonville, Florida 32257 or communityhospice.com would be appreciated.
Memorial Services will be held in three cities:
Jacksonville, Florida, date and details to be finalized on Monday, June 29 but will likely be on July 1.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 25 at 10:30 am at the Church of the Nativity, in Crafton, Pennsylvania, reception to follow at Chartiers Country Club.
Washington, D.C. September 23 at 3:00 pm (subject to change depending on our fly-over request at Arlington National Cemetery.)
Reviewed by: Michael Howard