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Dear thieves, give back the Silver Star you stole from a dying Kansas veteran

At left, Charles David Sankey had just joined the Army after graduating from Arizona State. At right, he receives his Silver Star in Vietnam.
At left, Charles David Sankey had just joined the Army after graduating from Arizona State. At right, he receives his Silver Star in Vietnam. Courtesy of the Sankey family

Dear thieves,

Let me tell you a little story, a true story, about the man whose Silver Star, Purple Heart and four Bronze Stars you stole out of his storage unit in Hutchinson, Kansas, while he was dying of Agent Orange-induced diabetes.

Charles David Sankey, who died at 73 in the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita last Thursday, was “a Kansas boy,” mostly raised in Kingman, his daughter Gaylan said. Maybe you have that in common.

He went right to Vietnam out of his ROTC unit at Arizona State University after graduating in 1967. And according to his Army discharge papers, he served our country for the next 21 years — jumping out of airplanes, teaching at West Point and working as a U.N. peacekeeper on the border of Israel and Lebanon.

The day that might interest you burglars the most, though, in case you’re at all curious about how he got that Silver Star you nicked from his grieving family, is April 1, 1969.

That’s when, under fire from the Viet Cong in Gia Dinh Province, Sankey stood his ground even after being shot a dozen times, saving the lives of 11 soldiers under his command and refusing, Gaylan Sankey said, “to leave his men until everybody under him either got medevaced or got out.”

That’s not just a family war story; the official report on his “gallantry in action” puts it this way:

“While moving in single file near a suspected enemy position, the company was struck by a command detonated mine. After calling for a medevac, Lieutenant Sankey was moving forward to assess the situation when his element was hit by intense rocket, automated weapons and small arms fire.

A rocket exploded near him, seriously wounding him and within 20 minutes, 90 percent of the forward element became casualties. In spite of his wounds, Lieutenant Sankey remained in an exposed position and directed light fire team fire, medevac and ammunition resupply until contact was broken. He refused to be evacuated until the firefight ended and all other casualties were medevaced.”

What did his service cost him? Along with diabetes and other ailments brought on by Agent Orange, a lifetime of PTSD.

“Vietnam never really left him,” said his wife, Elma Hunsinger.

He “gave his entire life for his country,” his daughter said.

His service robbed him of so much, and now, in pocketing his Silver Star, you who stole it have compounded his family’s mourning.

After his life ended, his family went to the Hutchinson Self Storage unit where he’d put all of his most precious family heirlooms in November when he moved into assisted living.

“Today was a shock,” his wife said on Saturday.

Because when she and Gaylan opened the unit, they found that someone had cut a hole in its metal back wall. And had emptied it of everything but a lamp, a coffee table and a picture of Sankey’s cat.

Not a cat lover, huh?

You thieves scored some valuable stuff — grandma’s silver service, a Tiffany lamp and various antiques — but “I don’t care about the money,” said Gaylan Sankey. “I want the medals back.”

Hutchinson police are investigating, and the family is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to recovery of “his belongings, most especially his medals.” Anyone with that information should call the Hutchinson police at (620) 694-2816.

Or, should you who are guilty of this not at all victimless crime suffer some pang of remorse, or maybe even gratitude, send them to the Sankeys through us at The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108.

We’re not asking for heroism here, but just a little humanity toward the survivors of a guy who refused to leave any man behind.