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  • Jimmy (James) Sanders, an English footballer

Lt. Col. Jim (James) Clay "Sandy" Sanders (22 Jun 1922 - 11 Aug 2005) was a US Air Force veteran who served in WWII, The Korean War, the Cold War conflict, and the Vietnam War.

Early life

Jim Sanders grew up hard, as a result of the Great Depression and a splintered family: Jim was only 10 years old when his father died, and as a result he spent much of his childhood being shuffled amongst relatives' homes. As a result he developed a strong self-sufficiency and resourcefulness that he relied upon throughout his life.

World War II

Jim Sanders in uniform, 1943

As WWII erupted, Sanders enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 and was overseas by the spring of 1944, flying as a B-17 bombardier with the 483rd Bomb Group.

On D-Day, he flew a bombing mission over Germany, landed in the Soviet Union, rearmed and embarked on a second bombing mission to Italy.

On July 18, 1944, Jim was the bombardier on a B-17 sent on a "milk run" mission to destroy an airdrome near Memmingen, Germany, while most of the 15th Air Force was going to the Munich area.

Because of bad weather, the bomber aircraft got separated from one another and were deprived of fighter support. Several of the bombers, including Jim's, decided to continue on to the target without the cover of the fighter escorts.

The bombers destroyed their objective, however they suffered heavy losses. Jim later told of seeing many doomed bombers spiraling toward the ground with their tail gunners still firing at the German fighters. Jim's bomber suffered multiple hits from enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft fire.

As Jim aligned his bombsight on the target, he discovered that the B-17 would not follow the commands of the autopilot and bombsight. He turned around and discovered that no one else was still in the airplane with him. Jim bailed out of his plane as it fell toward the earth, rolling into a ball to avoid being struck by the bomb bay doors which he knew were still open. He later said "I was not scared at the time - I was angry. I did not want to believe that this could happen to us when we were so close to flying all of our missions." While falling to the ground, he saw other crewmembers jumping from their damaged aircraft with their parachutes on fire.

Jim had to violently slip his parachute to avoid an Me-109, resulting in a hard landing that crushed Jim's right leg. With the adrenalin in his system, he thought he had only turned an ankle, so he scooped up his parachute and ran for cover. He watched a small patrol hunt for him, and then leave to hunt for others. Later, he found he could not walk, and his leg swelled to enormous size. He was forced to crawl out of his hiding place and surrender to a civilian crew stacking hay on racks for drying.

For three weeks, Jim endured a modicum of medical care in Kempten hospital, where he met up with several other captured Americans. He and the other prisoners were then evacuated to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt. He arrived wearing only a nightshirt, which he said resembled "an old grain sack with three holes for arms and head," as the hospital had confiscated all clothing for being government issue. He was put in a small cell with a bare lightbulb and a cot.

Jim was soon called before a Luftwaffe Captain for interrogation - Jim unkempt, unshaven for three weeks, and still wearing only his nightshirt. Jim gave only his name, rank and serial number. The Captain pulled out a large book and told Jim his Group, Squadron and crew number, plus several other personal items of information. Jim did not provide the Captain with any information, and had his wedding ring returned to him.

After the interrogation, he was given a Red Cross "Capture Parcel" containing clothing, tobacco, playing cards, and sundry other items. He was then moved to Obermaßfeld-Grimmenthal (Lazarette IX C) where British doctors performed an operation on his leg. After recovering from the operation, he was moved to the convalescence section in the village of Meiningen, until November 11, 1994, when he was transferred to Stalag Luft III, a prisoner of war camp in Sagan, now Żagań in Poland.

In February 1945, as the Russians advanced towards the POW camp, Jim was part of a forced march from the camp, during which he surreptitiously dropped out of line, burrowed into a snow bank and waited for 14 hours as 10,000 prisoners passed by him. He was recaptured several days later while trying to get through the lines to the Russian forces. He was sent by boxcar and interned at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Nuremberg. That camp was evacuated in March, whereupon Jim escaped once more. This time Jim and a fellow American soldier reached Paris and freedom just a few days before the war ended. Of the desire to escape the forced POW marches, he later said, "We were afraid that Hitler and the SS would massacre prisoners, and also did not like being strafed by our own planes."

Korean War

After the war he took a job as an ironworker, but was recalled to the Air Force in 1950 as the Korean War heated up. While he served in the Air Force for the duration of the action, he was not deployed to Korea. After the war, he decided to stay in the military.

Cold War

By 1958 he was trained as a navigator and was on board Strategic Air Command B-52s flying out of Fort Worth Air Force Base.

Jim's squadron was on alert to hit Cuba with conventional weapons should the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis escalated. Most observers agree that October 1962 was as close as the world has ever come to an exchange of nuclear weapons.

Throughout the 1960s, Jim flew more than 100 "dome missions," which were regular 24 hour flights over the Polar Ice Cap or the Eastern Mediterranean toward the Soviet Union fully armed with nuclear weapons.

Vietnam

By 1965, Jim was flying out of Guam on bombing runs into Vietnam.

The next year he unhappily retired from the Air Force, after being told that colonels should have college degrees.

Post Military Career

After retirement, Jim enrolled in Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he earned a bachelor's degree in History and a teaching certificate.

Jim taught in Dickson County schools, teaching History and Shop. Several years later, he was employed as an instructor at the Nashville training and manufacturing facility for the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain, where he was well-known as being a real, live Col. Sanders working for KFC.

Later in life Jim earned his multi-engine commercial pilot's rating, although he never used it as a career tool.

Retirement

Jim retired in the early 1980s. Never wanting to stop learning, he bought a computer and set up a local Bulletin Board System that he operated for many years. Claiming that "continuous learning keeps your mind from deteriorating" with age, he stayed current with computer technology, and continued learning computers and programming until shortly before his death in 2005.

Military Awards and Decorations

This is an incomplete list of Jim Sanders' awards and decorations:

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