WWII vet shares escape story with Augusta Historical Society


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Alfred Sanders ran all night Sept. 6, 1944, to catch a ride on a U.S. military plane waiting in Amiens, France, to take him home.

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Alfred Sanders says German forces hit his aircraft before he dropped a bomb on an oil refinery in Leipzeig, Germany. He ejected from the plane and parachuted into Belgium.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Alfred Sanders says German forces hit his aircraft before he dropped a bomb on an oil refinery in Leipzeig, Germany. He ejected from the plane and parachuted into Belgium.

When he arrived, he had a fractured ankle and had lost 45 pounds from spending three months hiding in attics, abandoned farms and canal boats in Belgium to evade German soldiers chasing him for bombing one of the country’s oil refineries.

Five seconds later and he said he might have missed his flight back to his hometown of Kentwood, La., and to Mildred, now his wife of 72 years.

“I told everyone that I would have died in Belgium, but not in Germany,” said Sanders, a 20-year Air Force veteran who shared his story Friday during an interview with the Augusta Historical Society at Georgia Regents University. Sanders, 95, came to Augusta from St. Paul, Minn., to visit his son, Mike.

Fred Gehle, the project coordinator for the historical society’s Veterans History Project, said Sanders’ interview is one of more than 800 the local group has conducted for submission into the Library of Congress’ American folklore division.

Sanders joined the Army Air Forces in 1942 and was selected to pilot a B-24 Liberator two years later. He had a crew of 10 men and six to eight 500-pound bombs on board when he took off from Sudbury, England.

“We flew four successful missions, but it was the fifth that was a disaster,” Sander said.

On the last mission, May 28, 1944, Sanders’ engine was hit by the Germans while he was at 18,000 feet on the way to bomb an oil refinery in Leip­zig, Germany. He continued on course and was hit again after he dropped a bomb.

When he noticed a third engine had failed and that he didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to England, he set the plane on autopilot, ejected from the aircraft and parachuted into Ronquieres, Belgium – 35 miles south of Brussels.

“I remember them saying in training to count to 10 before pulling the ripcord, but I yanked it almost immediately,” he said. “I’m lucky the parachute did not catch on something.”

The fall fractured Sand­ers’ ankle and as many as six Belgians stripped him of his flight gear, he said. Running on adrenaline, Sanders said he made it to a nearby wheat field, where he hid until a truck passed and two men and a woman offered help.

They took him to their home and gave him a glass of wine, a pistol and a change of clothes. He stayed until dark and was then taken to an abandoned farm in Halle, Belgium, where he met 17 Russian soldiers who had deserted the country’s military.

After two nights in hiding, he left after a German soldier killed the farm’s owner. From there, he would stay in 14 houses, surviving on beer and potatoes, he said. The diet resulted in returning home weighing 130 pounds. He left at 175 pounds.

At the last home in Hove, Belgium, a young girl offered to take him to Switzerland, Sanders said.

“I should have suspected something was up,” he said. “She sat in the backseat.”

Not far into the trip, Sanders said German soldiers stopped the car and told the driver to take him to a nearby farmhouse they had converted into a headquarters.

“The girl who offered to help me and a soldier went inside the house, while the driver and I stayed in the car,” he said. “When an air raid began and people fled for bomb shelters, I said to the driver let’s go.”

The driver took him to Brussels, where a member of the Swiss embassy said he could help him.

Sanders was entrusted to the care of two embassy aides who were supposed to make an ID for him, but they instead took him to the Palace of Justice. He was turned over to a German officer, who took him into custody and loaded him into a baggage cart along with 47 other prisoners and as many as 1,500 Jews, he said.

While in the cart, a Can­adian solider said he had a key to open the door. Four jumped out before Sanders, two at a time. When it was his turn, he remembers the Germans shooting like crazy.

“You could hear the bullets,” said Sanders, who ran until he found a canal boat and stayed in the engine room for three days.

With the help of the Canadians, he escaped to France, where he was taken on a U.S. military transport plane to London. After a brief hospital stay, he was eventually sent home.

Sanders stayed in the Air Force 18 more years. For his service, he received a Purple Heart. He later taught community college for 17 years after earning a master’s degree in vocational education from Florida State University.

He has since returned twice to Belgium to visit the villages he hid in during his escape. Archeologists were able to excavate parts of his plane.

“I was happy to live through the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again for anybody,” he said.

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bubbasauce 01/18/14 - 02:06 am
They are all heroes! Glad he

They are all heroes! Glad he was able to get back home.

Riverman1 01/18/14 - 05:55 am
Great story, great man, great generation

If you wanted to parachute from those WWII bombers you had to actually jump out of the plane and then open your parachute. It was a struggle and not a simple matter of "ejecting." That's why he said he put the plan on auto pilot. Great story, great man, great generation.

wildman 01/18/14 - 08:22 am

If the generation of today had the will that this hero and those of his generation had our country would be in much better shape. Hero's of that generation appreciate what this country has to offer instead of expecting handouts. From one Air Force veteran to another, Sir, thank you for the sacrifice you made to keep our country free. You are a Great American!

justthefacts 01/18/14 - 08:43 am

I wonder why they didn't ask him if he ever caught up with the other crew members on his plane.

deestafford 01/18/14 - 10:33 am
From one combat veteran to another...

From one combat veteran to another...thank you for your bravery. It is because of people like you that this country became the greatest country in the history of the world. Too bad we have way too many today who want to destroy what you help build and protect. God bless you.

Jake 01/18/14 - 11:19 am
Almost hate to say it.....

......but WWII brought this country together for 4 years like no other event ever has. The willingness of the citizenry to fight against a common foe in whatever way they could is something we have not seen since.
Young men and women enlisted in the military and those who didn't or couldn't helped with rationing and buying war bonds.
God bless the ones remaining and, as long as I live, your sacrifice and commitment to our country and it's ideals will be remembered by me.

SJL1204 01/18/14 - 12:05 pm

A true hero. Thank you sir for your service.

ams53044@comcast.net 01/18/14 - 04:19 pm
Response to river man

Dad , as pilot, was the last man out, and because the engines were failing the plane was difficult to control. Before he could bail out he was beyond the site of any of his crew. Those that were captured reported he had gone in with the plane. He emphasizes how low he was when he finally got out.

ams53044@comcast.net 01/18/14 - 04:45 pm
Response for just the facts

It was a miracle that the entire crew survived. Five were captured immediately and sent to a Stalag Luft inside Germany. Fred Morley , the copilot, was sent to a farm where he was treated as member of the family. He worked side by side with the family's sons. The four who escaped were found by armed bandit/resistance fighters and generally just hid in the forest until general Patton's army came through. After the war Dad and his crew corresponded as long as the were able. They also met at reunions and other events. It was a lifetime relationship.

justthefacts 01/18/14 - 10:02 pm
Thanks ams53044

Thanks for the answer. Please thank you Dad for his terrific service to our country. You must be very proud!

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