Saunders, Laverne George “Blondie”

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Saunders, Laverne George “Blondie”
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Saunders, Laverne George “Blondie” born on 21-03-1903, in Stratford, South Dakota, entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on 01-07-1924, and graduated as a 2 Lieutenant of Infantry on 09-06-1928. It was there that his coal-black hair inspired his nickname “Blondie”. Saunders completed Air Corps Flying School and was awarded his pilot wings at Brooks Field, Texas, in June 1929. After completing Advanced Flying School, he was assigned to the 40th School Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas, from October 1929 to August 1930. Lieutenant Saunders next served with the 23rd Bomb Squadron   at Langley Field, Virginia, under command of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Blakey, where he ferried airplanes to Panama until he became the Assistant Football Coach at West Point in 1931. He served at West Point until December 1939, and then served as Commanding Officer of the 23rd Bomb Squadron and then the 12th Bomb Group at Hickam Field, Hawaii, until shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when he took command of the 11th Bomb Group in the Southwest Pacific, serving until December 1942. Major Saunders managed to get a bomber into the air during the attack on Pearl Harbor but was too late to find and strike the Japanese Fleet. His next assignment was as Deputy Chief of Staff at Headquarters Army Air Forces in Washington, D.C., where he served from December 1942 to July 1943. Beginning in August 1942, Saunders’ B-17 group was operating out of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, South of the Japanese-held Guadalcanal and the other occupied islands in the Solomons. At times they used Henderson Field at Guadalcanal for their attacks on Japanese shipping, aircraft and shore installations. Doubling as base commander and combat commander, Saunders led his group in destroying 60 enemy planes during this period, damaging 33 others, and seriously crippling an aircraft carrier and other vessels. But the Japanese struck back with aircraft attacks and shelling of bases — and the battle continued in the air. When his group was attacked head-on by a swarm of Zeros as they made a second run on a Japanese target, the pilot of Saunders’ B-17 was killed and the copilot seriously wounded. Saunders took the controls, landed the damaged plane near an island and helped the crew escape, inflate two boats and get ashore.  General Saunders was assigned to the 58th Bomb Wing at Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Kansas, in July 1943, and deployed with the Wing to Kharagpur, India, where he took command of the 58th Bomb Wing, serving there until a crash in a B-25 Mitchell ended his flying career in September 1944. On an administrative flight shortly before returning to the United States, in September 1944, Blondie’s B-25 crashed. His replacement Major General Curtis E. LeMay “Iron Ass”

helped move an engine off Saunders’ crushed ankle. He spent the next 2 1/2 years in the hospital and was a patient at Walter Reed Hospital from September 1944 until he was medically retired from the Army Air Forces on 28-02-1947 after losing a portion of his leg to the accident..His son Maurice M Saunders

was a second lieutenant in Air force too. Maurice died young age on 16-01-1954, aged 24 in Davidson County, Tennessee, USA . Laverne Saunders died on 16-11-1988, age 85 and is buried on the Sacred Heart Cemetery Aberdeen, Brown County, South Dakota, USA

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