Retired Air Force Col. Thomas Howard Saunders Sr., age 82, passed away on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at Tuomey Regional Medical Center.
He was born March 7, 1930, in Worth County, Ga., a son of the late Charlie Eugene and Mamie Roberts Saunders. Upon graduation from Doerun High School, he moved from Georgia to Connecticut, where he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving three years during the Korean Conflict as a tactical instructor of basic trainees. Upon discharge in 1952, he entered the University of Connecticut, graduating in 1956 as ROTC Wing Commander, recipient of the Order of the Sword, Arnold Air Society, with a regular commission in the Air Force as a second lieutenant. Thus began his third decade long career as an Air Force officer. Col. Saunders was a veteran of the Vietnam War, having flown 101 missions over North Vietnam, during which time he was hit on two occasions, successfully returning severely damaged aircraft to base.
He was a member of the Order of the Daedalians, Sons of the American Revolution, Arnold Air Society, American Legion, Sumter’s Masonic Lodge No. 364 and Military Officer’s Association.
During his distinguished career, he earned, among many other awards, the Legion of the Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Meritorious Service Medals, 11 Air Medals and two Combat Readiness Medals. He served at Lackland Air Force Base and Laredo Air Force Base, Texas; Loan Air Force Base, France; Shaw Air Force Base; Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand; Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; AFSOUTH NATO, Naples, Italy; Zweibrucken Air Base, Germany; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where he retired.
When he wasn’t flying his revered RF-4C Phantom or RF-101 VooDoo, Tom (call sign “Husky”) enjoyed gardening, playing golf with his buddies, hunting for the BIG buck and catching whatever was biting that day. Not only did he find much joy in his hobbies, he found even more joy in sharing them with his grandchildren and younger extended family members.
Surviving in addition to his wife are a son, Thomas Howard Saunders Jr. and his wife, Susan Gail Hatfield, of Prosperity; three daughters, Cindy Joan Saunders Beeson and her husband, George Kenneth, of Bulverde, Texas, Tamara Lynn Saunders Bingham of Tokyo, Japan, and Lorri Michelle Saunders of Sumter; a brother, Charlie H. Saunders of Crestview, Fla.; a sister, Marguerite Saunders Pitts of Doerun, Ga.; five grandchildren, Thomas Howard Saunders III and his wife, Kate, of Oviedo, Fla., Jessica Renee Saunders Cooley and her husband, Senior Master Sgt. Scott, of Great Falls, Mich., Michael David Beeson and his wife, Roxanne McDowell, of Dripping Springs, Texas, Mark Andrew Beeson and his wife, Tanya Ammons, of San Antonio, Texas, and Austen Glenn Bingham and his wife, Hannah, of Carrollton, Ga.; and four great-grandchildren, Coryn Renee Cooley, Clayton Lee Cooley, Aidyn Katherine Saunders and Gorman Owen Beeson.
He was preceded in death by his parents; two brothers, Curtis E. Saunders and Calvin Saunders; and a sister, Myrtle Saunders Massini.
A graveside service with full military honors will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Fort Jackson National Cemetery with the Rev. Mike Hatfield officiating.
The family will receive friends from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday at Bullock Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Daedalian Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 3192, Sumter, SC 29150; the Tamassee DAR School, 1925 Bumgardner Drive, Tamassee, SC 29686; or to a charity of one’s choice.
The family has chosen Bullock Funeral Home of Sumter for the arrangements.