By MYRA D. COLGATE
CHEROKEE PENTECOSTAL HOLINESS CHURCH
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David; such is my gospel,
“for which I suffer hardship to the point of imprisonment as a criminal, but God’s message is not imprisoned!
“Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.”
2 Timothy 2:8-9, 15 (GSB)
We observed the date of the beginning push by the Allies towards the ending of WWII, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944) last week. It is good to reflect on all it took for those of our parents and grandparents’ generations to free and to preserve the whole world’s way of life. Is it any wonder they are known as the ‘Greatest’ generation? It took the participation and sacrifice by everyone, including those who remained on the home front to keep food, supplies and materiel, vehicles, ships, and recruits flowing to the two wars at opposite ends of the world and the many points in between, by land, by air and by sea.
One of Cherokee’s own, Soldier Edward Sanders, was born during WWI, in 1918, in Stilwell, Okla., the youngest of five children. He was named in the ‘descriptive way’ of native Americans after his uncles who had fought in WWI. Enrolled in the Oklahoma Indian boarding school that supported the education of the children interspersed through seven counties with also Choctaw, Seminole and Chippewa attending, credited his first grade teacher, a ‘very strict’ Mrs. Hunt and her patience, in teaching him English and a love for learning at the same time. He even taught himself Morse Code while a member of the Boy Scouts which served him well during his service in the military. All during his schooling he joined in all the sports he could and soon began working on several teams as a coaching assistant, also joining the National Guard while still in high school. He met and married Catherine (Kay) Blythe (Eastern Band, Cherokee) in 1942.
As the war news grew worse, he entered the military service joining the newly formed 8th Air Force Composite Command, the first unit formed when the Army Air Corps became the Air Force. Leaving from Ft. Dix, N.J., his unit arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Not feeling really a part of the war effort there, he volunteered to move to a more active unit, the B-17 Pathfinders. While there he received notice of his first child, Karen, having been born, but she was three-years-old before he was able to see her for the first time.
Sent to Gunnery and Communications School in Kings Lynn, England, he was assigned to the 390th Bombardment Group on England’s southeastern shore. On Mission 113, May 28, 1944, and his 15th bombing run on Germany’s oil industry at Rothensee, they were shot down. It was in broad daylight as he parachuted down near a small village with many watching him so there was no chance of escaping detection. He was sent to the Frankfurt Interrogation Center and then to Luftwaffe Prison IV in East Prussia, where he lost 50 pounds in about four months. ‘They weren’t bad to us—just wasn’t enough food.’ ‘The most well attended activities in prison were the religious ones, Bible studies, choir practices, and daily prayer meetings.’
‘Late in Dec. 1944, we started hearing rumors and then the cannon fire as the Russian army advanced east.’ They were moved to Stalag XIII D near Nurnberg, but because of bombings they moved the entire camp 75 miles south by forced march. Hearing of the death of President Roosevelt, Sanders and another POW decided it was time to escape. The others scraped together what little there was to give them and they took off. The marshlands at the Danube River made it almost impossible to find an unguarded bridge. They had to separate with Sanders finding a fast-moving American tank unit three days later. Because of his Cherokee features there was no doubt of his being an American. He spent two weeks in a hospital in Paris, France. His wife was sent a telegram on May 16, 1945 that he’d be home soon.
Home at last, he finished his schooling, had two sons and another daughter, remained active in sports—excelling in tennis. He changed careers working in the U.S. Postal Service in Cherokee and Maggie Valley, retiring in 1983. At the time of this interview, in July 1990, he was only one of seven POWs who had actually escaped and who were still living.