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Air Force Museum Foundation

Duty Above All: Tech. Sgt. Sator “Sandy” Sanchez


Tech. Sgt. Sator "Sandy" Sanchez was an aerial gunner on B-17s during World War II. He began his combat career with the 8th Air Force, 95th Bomb Group, 334th Bomb Squadron, in the fall of 1943. After having flown the required 25 combat missions with the 95th Bomb Group, Sanchez volunteered to stay on, eventually flying a total of 44 combat missions. In the summer of 1944, he was sent home for rest and reassignment as a gunnery instructor. In recognition of his dedication, a B-17 was nicknamed "Smilin' Sandy Sanchez" in his honor. It is the only known B-17 aircraft ever named for an enlisted man.

After his short stay in the United States, the 23-year-old volunteered for what would be his third combat tour. This time he was sent to the 15th Air Force in Italy and was assigned to the 353rd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. On March 15, 1945, TSgt. Sanchez volunteered for a mission to bomb an oil plant at Ruhland, Germany, manning the top gun turret position. It would become the 66th and last mission for Sanchez. During the bomb run, the aircraft was hit by flak and severely damaged. All the crew members, except Sanchez, bailed out and were taken prisoner. The B-17 eventually exploded and crashed. Sanchez's body was never recovered. Six weeks later, the war in Europe came to an end.

This is only one example of the personal sacrifices made by Army Air Forces personnel during the war. These countless acts of courage and duty ensured the eventual Allied victory in the war.

The left side of the vertical tail section from B-17G (S/N 42-97683) -- the aircraft in which Sanchez perished during his 66th mission -- is on display in the museum's Air Power Gallery. The tail section was discovered in 1993, being used as part of a farmer's shed near the crash site in Germany. The 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron recovered the artifact for the museum in 1996.

Click here to return to the World War II Gallery.

 

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