Our Real Life Hero Sergeant Snorkel
Beetle Bailey and Sergeant Snorkel were actually based on real-life people. The comic strip may have been embellished upon to add to the humor, but the real Sergeant Snorkel did possess many of the same characteristics. His daughter Griffen wished that her father Octavian N. Savu had known that the comic strip was based on him. He would have enjoyed knowing that.
Octavian Savu had been born to parents who had immigrated from Romania. Savu was born in Indiana and raised in St. Joseph MO. When he began school, his teacher had misunderstood his name when she was told it was Tavi, so he remained being called Tom or Tommy. He later attended Park College, Junior College and the University of MO.
When he turned 21 years old, in 1935, he joined the service. He was sent to the US Army at Fort Leavenworth Kansas. He was in the 17th infantry. This was the beginning of a decade long career for Savu.
In 1940, he married the love of his life, Margo. Around this time, he began to climb the ranks slowly in the military. He first became a Reserve Officer Trainer in Iowa, at the Abraham Lincoln High School. He taught the young recruits map reading skills, first aid, marksmanship and also combat tactics.
When he and the wife moved to St. Louis, he began a position at St. Louis’ Washington University. He was the overseer of soldiers in that school’s Army Specialized Training Program. These were twelve-week courses between 1943 and 1945. The courses later became known as “Engineering, Science and Management War Training Program”. This is where he met Mort Walker, an already known artist. Walker came from Kansas City and was a World War 2 draftee. In later years, Mort Walker would become the creator and artist of Beetle Bailey comic fame. The world would later learn that Sergeant Snorkel, the character in the comic strip, was actually based on Octavian Savu. Before leaving Missouri in 1944, Walker had given Savu a hand-drawn caricature of Savu.
Savu was then assigned overseas in France. He was a First Sergeant. Octavian Savu was there from April until August 1945. He served as an Administrative Sgt. with the 14th Reinforcement Depot. He was discharged early and sent home on a disability discharge on September 21, 1945. He was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and later it was found that he was diabetic.
Octavian and Margo Savu adopted two daughters and moved to Colorado. He became an employee specialist at the Air Force Accounting and Finance Services. When the girls were still young, Savu had his first heart attack. He then began gardening and became known for his lawn and his roses. He was also a commander in his local VFW post.
In April of 1968, the family took a vacation and headed to where Mr. Savu had grown up. He showed the girls his family home where he had grown up. They also visited with family friends. As the vacation neared the end, they began to drive home. They stopped for the night in Omaha and obtained a hotel room. Savu had his third heart attack and passed away in the hotel room. The daughters were 14 and 11 years old.
Octavian N. Savu was given full military honors during his funeral. He was then buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.
His daughter, Griffin has stated that “He possessed many of the characteristics of Sergeant Snorkel. He was a compassionate man. He was tough but fair, and he was full of character. That is quite possibly why the troops loved him.” She also stated that to her and her sister, he was not just dad; he was their hero and their mentor.
Mort Walker spoke very highly of Savu also, before he himself passed away. He recalled when the Sergeant had written a poem and given each one of the men a copy by placing it on their pillows. The poem was called “My Boys”. Walker had stated that that was the point that they had realized he had a heart.