Updated: Apr 2, 2020
20 - 26 May 1918
Despite last week's gut punch, the 12th pressed its pursuit of the enemy. On Saturday morning, May 25th, the 12th received yet another mission: adjust artillery fire for the 26th Division. Poor weather prevailed yet
26 year old Captain "Deac" William Harrison Saunders volunteered to make the attempt and climbed into the Observer's seat of his aircraft.
He persevered through two hours of anti-aircraft fire. His plane was crippled by enemy fire but not before he successfully adjusted three artillery batteries onto their targets. Capt Saunders and his pilot limped home but "Deac" wasn't satisfied. His mission remained incomplete. Upon his return, Saunders found second aircraft and pilot to take him back.
One hour later "Deac" was spotted returning to his home field with a sick engine. Unhappy, "Deac" grabbed his third pilot and plane charging right back to the front. Weather forced them to low altitude and deep into enemy territory making them especially vulnerable to enemy ground fire. Undaunted, "Deac" endured heavy enemy fire for another hour taking serious damage to his propeller. Even a flight control was severed from his aircraft. Yet "Deac," stubborn as ever, refused to quit.
It took Capt Saunders three attempts with as many aircraft and pilots to finish the job but he got it done. Two of his planes were so badly damaged they never flew again. Capt Saunders' inspiring example foreshadowed things to come. The 12th would soon face many serious challenges yet her crews would go on to earn a reputation for courage, daring and commitment as Capt Saunders displayed on 26 May 1918.
Captain Saunders was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions -- the Army's second highest decoration.
Below is his citation:
Distinguished Service Cross
Action Date: 26 May 1918
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Captain (Air Service) William Harrison Saunders, United States Army Air Service, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 12th Aero Squadron, U.S. Army Air Service, A.E.F., in the Toul sector, France, 25 May 1918. The artillery of the 26th Division desiring its batteries to be adjusted upon objectives in front of the division, Captain Saunders volunteered to make the attempt, although the weather was most unfavorable to flying. After flying two hours amid heavy anti-aircraft fire and having adjusted the fire of three batteries his plane was hit and disabled. Returning to his airdrome he secured another plane and returned to the enemy line to complete his mission. After another hour in the air he was again forced on account of motor trouble to return to the airdrome. Obtaining a third plane he again returned to the lines, the weather conditions forcing him to proceed for a considerable distance behind enemy lines and at low altitude. Flying thus for an hour his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and badly damaged. With one control shot away, and his propeller likewise injured, he still
continued to adjust, always at low altitude and under constant enemy fire, until his mission was successfully accomplished. The heroic conduct of Captain Saunders served as a splendid example of soldierly devotion to duty to the men of his squadron.
(2016). Retrieved from Hall of Valor: http://valor.militarytimes.com
Long, J. (n.d.). Wings Without Glory: Two South Carolina Aviators in the Great War.
William Harrison Saunders (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2016, from http://www.findagrave.com