RENO, Nev. (AP) — Charles Sperry — known as "Bob" to his friends — was a quiet man with a gracious smile and a gravitational pull as big as Nevada.
He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
He was an outdoorsman who loved hunting, fishing, camping and just driving throughout the wide open spaces of his native state.
He was a career Marine, who commanded a rifle company near the DMZ at the height of the Vietnam War.
He was the friendly face in his southeast Reno neighborhood, waving to passers-by from his immaculately kept front yard.
He was the guy looking out for fellow veterans and neighbors.
That was the way Bob Sperry lived his life and the way it ended on Oct. 16, when he was fatally shot by an alleged bank robber.
According to reports, the 80-year-old Sperry was trying to protect fellow customers at the Bank of America on South Virginia Street near Meadowood Mall.
"He saw the need for direct and immediate action to alleviate the possibility of injury to others, and he took it," friend and fellow Marine Bill Baines told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "He was a Marine and he did what Marines do."
Joe Sperry of Reno said looking out for others was simply in his father's DNA.
"Anything to the nature of him saving somebody, I don't put it past him because that was just him," he said. "I'm sure what happened, it was through his instinct to act. It kind of just happened and the outcome was the outcome."
"I think he's a hero, but he was a hero to me before this happened," Joe Sperry said.
Born in Las Vegas and raised in Great Falls, Mont., and East Ely in Nevada, Bob Sperry enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school.
"He joined the Marines at the very end of the Korean War," Baines said.
Sperry was not sent to Korea, but to India for embassy duty.
"It's a very select duty," Baines said. "They don't just pick any Marine. They have very specific guidelines. I'm an infantry officer by trade, but I did a lot of personnel work when I got back to the U.S., including selecting Marines for embassy duty. Of 1,000 Marines, I found one guy that fit the profile."
Sperry was later commissioned an officer, another rarity for an enlisted man.
"If you're a candidate for commissioning, it means that you have met a real high standard," Baines said.
Sperry retired a major after 26 years.
He and his wife, Milka, eventually settled in Reno in 1976 and he worked in the insurance business for many years. In recent years, he joined High Sierra Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America and made an instant impression on his fellow vets.
"When first saw him, he was always a quiet, soft-spoken guy," said Vietnam veteran Dave Billau. "But veterans know veterans. We know each other. With him, you knew he was an officer right away. He'd just show up and you knew because of his presence, he was an officer. He had a command presence. He just carried himself that way."
In retirement, and even as he faced his own health issues, helping veterans became a passion for Sperry.
"He would take guys back and forth over to the hospitals," Billau said. "He did that with their families, too. If a vet passed away and the wife needed help, Bob made sure that got done. A lot of people don't know about the benefits available to veterans and their families. He made sure they knew about it. It didn't matter who they were, he just did it. It was automatic."
Bob and Milka Sperry moved to Reno in 1976 and into their home in the Donner Springs area of southeast Reno a couple of years later.
"My mom wants people to know that in her eyes, my dad was a saint," Joe Sperry said. "He was a very loving, caring man she spent 36 years of her life with."
Joe is the youngest of Bob Sperry's five children. Sons Greg, Victor and Andre, and daughter Mimi Ash, all live in California.
Joe Sperry didn't know the Marine, just the father.
"He was my best friend, especially over the last five years when we became really close," Joe Sperry said. "There wasn't a morning in the last two years that we didn't see each other. Every morning, we called each other. Either I called him or he called me. If I didn't answer or he didn't answer the phone, he'd show up at my doorstep or I'd show up at his."
Bob was an avid outdoorsman, fishing, hunting and camping all over the state. Even as he faced his own health issues, he still loved to be outdoors, even if it was for a long drive.
"We drove a lot in the middle of nowhere, just so we could be together and talk," Joe Sperry said.
Bob Sperry also was a familiar figure in his neighborhood where he could often be seen in his front yard talking to friends, waving to motorists and generally keeping an eye on things. His son said he headed the neighborhood watch program for several years.
"He wanted people to know he was there to help if he could," Joe said.
Sperry made an impression on everyone he touched.
"If there was one word I could use to describe him, I would say 'kind,'" Baines said. "He was a very, very kind man."
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