Jerry Sanda, a broadcast journalist, sailor and writer, lived a hard life. He was born to Harry and Doris Sanda on April 9, 1965 in Minot, North Dakota. Harry was a lineman for the local electric company. When Jerry was six, Doris died of a terminal illness. The death crushed young Jerry, whose grief was deepened after the death of his infant sister, Victoria.
But Jerry did well in school. He was a bright child and a good student. “He was a great little boy,” said Jerry’s sister Ginger. “I remember him well with his curly blond hair. He was the baby of the family.” His sister Janelle remembers the time he wanted to look manlier before starting grade school, and cut off all of his curly hair.
Harry often took Jerry out hunting antelope and trapping mink, which Jerry loved. The pair also hunted upland birds and waterfowl with Harry’s English setters Kit and Spud. Jerry was a natural marksman. “We were on a trap-shooting league—something like skeet—and it came down to the end of the tournament. We lost in the championship round to one of the best teams on the league by less than one point,” said Jerry’s brother Jeff. “When he was 12 or 13 Jerry scored a perfect 25 out of 25.” Jerry’s prowess with a shotgun was a source of pride for Harry.
Sports became a lifelong passion for Jerry. He became a quarterback and inside linebacker in high school. He loved football, and idolized Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Another tragedy struck Jerry when he was in high school. His beloved girlfriend, Sylvia, was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He never told anyone about the incident until years later, when he was sitting in a bar with his best friend, Dirk McCall. Shel Silverstein’s “Silvia’s Mother” was playing on the jukebox. He told Dirk how much he loved the girl, and how much her death changed his life.
After he graduated in 1983, Jerry enlisted in the Navy, where he was trained at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis. He was sent to the Defense Information School to be trained in public relations and broadcast journalism. Many notable journalists were graduates of the school, including Adrian Cronauer (who was portrayed in “Good Morning, Vietnam”), Gene Siskel and Bob Green of the Chicago Sun Times.
It was in Indianapolis that he met Dirk, who was also studying to be a Naval reporter. They were both sent to serve aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. Jerry continued to play football in the Navy, and played quarterback for the undefeated USS Nimitz flag football team.
During Operation Desert Shield, Jerry took footage of American troops that aired on several major network news channels. He was recommended for the Navy Commendation Medal for his work as a broadcast journalist, but his chief did not push through the final paperwork. He also worked in Cuba and Guantanamo, where he wrote for The Gitmo Gazette.
Jerry began to drink heavily and, in 2005, was given a medical discharge and sent to a rehab program in Los Angeles. He dried out and went on to write for a number of publications in North Dakota and California, but as he started drinking again he had trouble holding down jobs. “They’d tell him to go cover a high school football game, and instead he’d go to the bar,” Dirk said. Jerry felt that alcohol was the only way to mediate the grief in his life. “The only thing that really works for me is alcohol, and it’s the only thing that dooms me,” he later said.
Jerry was the source of a thousand stories. One of his favorites was the time he was driving his Trans Am through the snowy plains of North Dakota. He pulled over to the curb and fell asleep from exhaustion—leaving the engine and radio on. He woke up with Guns and Roses blasting “Welcome to the jungle!” as flames were shooting out of the heater vents. Jerry stumbled out of the car into the snow and started walking down the road. When he turned back, his car was completely engulfed in flames.
He was a quick wit, and always ready with a comeback. Once, after striking out at a softball match, Jerry was annoyed to see the catcher and umpire laughing at him. Jerry told them “Well I guess I’m out. Make sure to say ‘hi’ to your wife and my kids.”
When Jerry moved to Bolinas in 2007, he met Dirk’s mother, Marilyn, who soon became his surrogate parent. “From the first he called me ‘Mom,’ she wrote. “More towards the end, his hugs becoming more fierce, his eyes moist with emotion, he would be in the moment as though it were his last.”
Jerry died while drinking with his friends under a tree on the beach on July 17. “Finally he lost his battle, and his pain is finally over. I hold a place of remembrance of him, deep in my heart,” Marilyn wrote. “Good night, Jerome. May you rise on eagles’ wings, may you soar with the angels.” He will be missed.
Jerry is survived by his father, Harry Sanda of Fargo, North Dakota; brother, Jeffrey Sanda of Fargo; sisters Janelle (Robert Arusell) Sanda of Fargo; Ginger (Joel) Kumpula of Willow, Alaska; Jayne (Jim) Knight of New York Mills; many nieces, nephews, other relatives and a host of friends.