This blog post is dedicated to the remarkable and varied life of Bernard Sanderson. A Nashville native, he attended East Nashville High School as a member of the ROTC from 1935-39 before attending Vanderbilt University from 1939-41.
He transferred to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to finish his degree but his academic career was put on hold in 1942 when he enlisted in the Army Air Corp. After completing basic training in Robinson, AR, in 1943 he began active duty. He completed Aerial Gunnery and Aircraft Armament service schools before departing for Europe on September 11, 1944.
The "Nic Crew" of the 454th Bombing Group
His deployment took him to countries such as Italy, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia where he completed 29 combat missions as the ball turret gunner of the “nic crew” (named after the aircrew’s pilot John Nichols) for the 454th bombing group.
One mission in Munich exemplified the bravery and luck of Sanderson and the other members of his bombing group. The “nic crew” was ordered to perform an experimental night mission on November 24-25, 1944, which they had very little experience doing. About halfway to their destination their plane lost one of its engines due to a mechanical issue, but they decided to push on hoping it wouldn’t cause any major problems.
Once over the target they lost a second engine, and on their journey home, a third engine began losing power. Running on the power of about one and a half engines, their navigator Charles Berman decided it was best they fly over the Alps instead of wasting energy finding a way around them.
Unsure if the plane would make it back, some crew members including Bernard were asked to jump; only crew members James Angelucci and Robert Brown did. The rest dropped all unnecessary belongings out of the plane in hopes that the lighter load would increase their chances of making it out of enemy territory.
Sanderson specifically decided not to jump with the others because, as a Jewish man, his odds of survival on the ground were even lower.
Those on board the plane managed to make an emergency landing on a fighter strip with what was left in the gas tank, but did not see Angelucci and Brown for six weeks. They were deemed MIA with little faith that they could survive so long without being caught by the Germans, so other members of the 454th group were in disbelief when they appeared on base again.
The gallantry displayed by Sanderson and his crew members in events such as this led him to receive a multitude of honors and awards including an Air Medal and an EAME Campaign medal. Fortunately, all “nic crew” members made it back to the United States safely, never forgetting the harrowing events they faced.
Sanderson returned home on June 18th, 1945, with an honorable discharge.