05/15/11 — Mount Olive native receives highest Coast Guard honor

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Mount Olive native receives highest Coast Guard honor

By Nelson Bland
Published in News on May 15, 2011 1:50 AM

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Lt. Cmdr. Bill Sasser

RONES CHAPEL -- A Mount Olive native, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. William E. "Bill" Sasser Jr., 43, a recipient of the U.S. Coast Guard's Distinguished Flying Cross, has been listed on the Coast Guard's Wall of Gallantry.

The Wall of Gallantry, which recognizes Coast Guard members who have achieved certain levels of awards, is located at the Coast Guard Officers Candidates School in New Haven, Connecticut.

Sasser, the son of Gene and Susie Sasser of Rones Chapel, is a helicopter pilot.

He was named to the Wall of Gallantry recently for his "heroic actions" in rescuing 60 victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and for rescuing five men from a freighter off the British coast just seconds before the freighter exploded in 2001.

The latter operation was conducted while Sasser was serving as a Coast Guard Exchange Officer to the Royal Air Force on a tour in England. For that rescue, he was personally presented the Royal Air Force Cross by Queen Elizabeth in 2002 at Buckingham Palace.

"When I was involved with Hurricane Katrina, I was stationed down at Mobile and was the pilot in command of the first aircraft to conduct search and rescue along the Alabama and Mississippi coastlines that night," Sasser said.

The Wall of Gallantry plaque notes that Sasser "performed a series of grueling and hazardous rescues" in the aftermath of Katrina. With his helicopter hovering at treetop level amongst flailing power lines and 50 knot headwinds, he flew the aircraft "to extreme limits" and held position for 25 minutes as some victims were extracted through a hole in the roof.

Sasser, who has been credited with rescuing 160 people during his career, said that while he was the commander of rescue operations, his co-pilot and three crew members also deserve credit for their work with him during the operations.

During his career, Sasser has earned several awards and honors, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He also received two other non-military awards in England -- the Vodafone/Daily Express Life Savers Award and the Pride of Britain Beyond the Call of Duty Award.

Sasser is stationed at the Coast Guard Station in Los Angeles, Calif. where he is the executive officer and second in command of a unit comprised of 20 officers, 70 enlisted members and four MH-65C helicopters with a value of $28 million.

Sasser has accumulated more than 3,800 military rotary wing flight hours and has served as an instructor pilot and flight examiner for the MH-65C helicopters. In addition to his search and rescue missions, he has served on a variety of Coast Guard missions, including law enforcement and marine environmental protection.

A 1986 graduate of Southern Wayne High School at Dudley, Sasser earned a bachelor of arts degree in justice and public policy from North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, a master's degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix and a master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval Command and Staff at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Sasser is married to the former Cindy Strickland from the Grantham community. The couple has four children, who are homeschooled by Ms. Sasser: Camber, 16, Hayden, 13, Darcy, 11 and Liam, 10.

The family resides in El Segundo, Calif., in the Los Angeles area where Sasser is a member of the Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Manhattan Beach.

Sasser, who reached retirement status about a year ago, said he plans to serve with the Coast Guard until at least September 2012.