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Home Town Stratford, South Dakota
Last Address Aberdeen, South Dakota
Date of Passing Nov 16, 1988
Location of Interment Sacred Heart Cemetery - Aberdeen, South Dakota
Last Known Activity:
Born in Stratford, S.D., in 1903, Saunders graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1924 and the U.S. Military Academy in 1928. It was there that his coal-black hair inspired his nickname. An All-America tackle at West Point, He was the football coach there from 1931 through 1939.
He began fighting as a pilot in WWII at Hickam Field the day it and Pearl Harbor were attacked by the Japanese. Later, he fought them at Midway, in the Solomons and on Guadalcanal. In 1944 he conducted the first land-based air attack on Japan.
On an administrative flight shortly before returning to the US in Sep 1944, his B-25 crashed. Gen. Curtis LeMay helped move an engine off Saunders' crushed ankle. He spent the next 2 1/2 years in the hospital and was medically retired Feb 28, 1947.
(adapted from his USAF bio, see 2nd link below)
His son, 2nd Lt. Maurice Melvin Saunders, USAF, was killed in the crash of his A-26 bomber in TN on Jan 16, 1954.
His Navy Cross citation:
Awarded for actions during WWII
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Brigadier General [then Colonel] Laverne George Saunders, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service as Commanding Officer of the 11th Bombardment Group (H), THIRTEENTH Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands on 18 November 1942. Brigadier General Saunders led his group of bombers in a daring daylight raid on enemy shipping in the face of severe anti-aircraft and enemy fighter opposition in the Buin-Tonolei area of the Solomon Islands. At least two 1,000-pound bomb hits were scored on enemy vessels and 12 enemy aircraft were destroyed. After his own airplane was badly damaged and it became necessary to land his plane in enemy territory, he skillfully accomplished a water landing near shore thereby permitting the remaining members of his crew to reach safety. Brigadier General Saunders' outstanding courage, daring airmanship and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Armed Service.
General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 313 (April 1943)
World War II/China-India-Burma Theater/India-Burma Campaign (1942-45)
April / 1942
January / 1945
Description (India-Burma Campaign 2 April 1942 to 28 January 1945) China Burma India Theater (CBI) was an umbrella term, used by the United States military during World War II for the China and Southeast Asian or India-Burma (IBT) theaters. Operational command of Allied forces (including US forces) in the CBI was officially the responsibility of the Supreme Commanders for South East Asia or China. However: US forces in practice were usually overseen by General Joseph Stilwell, the Deputy Allied Commander in China; the term "CBI" was significant in logistical, material and personnel matters; it was and is commonly used within the US for these theaters.
Well-known US (or joint Allied) units in the CBI included the Chinese Expeditionary Force, the Flying Tigers, transport and bomber units flying the Hump, the 1st Air Commando Group, the engineers who built Ledo Road, and the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), popularly known as "Merrill's Marauders".
"We got a hell of a beating," Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell told the crowd of reporters in the Indian capital of New Delhi. It was May 1942, and the American general, who had only recently arrived in the Far East to assume the position of chief of staff to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, was chafing at failure in his first command in the field. Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor the previous December, the Japanese had won victory after victory, extending their empire from Wake Island in the Pacific to Malaya and Singapore in Southeast Asia. When Stilwell had arrived in the embattled Chinese capital of Chungking in March, the Japanese were already driving into Burma, capturing the capital of Rangoon on 6 March. The American general took command of two Chinese divisions and, in cooperation with the British and Indians, tried to stem the Japanese onslaught. Defeated, he and his staff endured a rugged, 140-mile hike over jungle-covered mountains to India. By occupying Burma, the Japanese had not only gained access to vast resources of teak and rubber, but they had dosed the Burma Road, 700 miles of dirt highway that represented China's last overland link with the outside world. The reopening of an overland route to China would be the major American goal, indeed obsession, in the theater throughout the campaign.
The objective of restoring a land route to China originated in part in hard strategic considerations, specifically the need to keep China in the war to tie down Japanese troops and serve as a base for future operations against the Japanese home islands. But it also reflected an idealistic American view of China as a great power, capable of a major contribution, and the romantic image held by many Americans of China's heroic struggle against superior Japanese equipment and arms. For nearly three years the United States would thus push for a major effort to break the Japanese blockade, forward large quantities of lend-lease materials, and train the fledgling Chinese Army and Air Force.