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)
Action Date: 18-Nov-42
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: Brigadier General
Company: Commanding Officer
Regiment: 11th Bombardment Group (H)
Division: 13th Air Force