Elbert Sanders

Sharna Johnson

Large red letters said “extremely urgent” on the draft letter that pulled Sanders away from his new wife…

Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.

Elbert Sanders
Date of birth: March 5, 1920
Dates of service: 1942 to 1946
Hometown: Portales
Lives in: Clovis
Theater and location of service: New Caledonia, Okinawa, Korea
Branch: Army
Rank: Staff sergeant
Unit and specialty: 71st Station Hospital, 6th Infantry
Discharge location: Clovis

In his words: Large red letters said “extremely urgent” on the draft letter that pulled Sanders away from his new wife and sent him to the other side of the world.

After completing two years of college and working for J.C. Penney in Portales, “I knew everybody was getting drafted but I thought maybe I would finish college first,” Sanders said.

After training in Texas and in Colorado, Sanders was put on a ship and sent to the Pacific: He went to New Caledonia, Okinawa and Korea, the last stop.

On the way to Korea, a typhoon struck and Sanders recalls the water sweeping up and over the top of the ship, waves more gargantuan and violent than he ever imagined.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen to us, but we managed to survive it,” he said.

After the typhoon passed, their eyes fell on an odd sight.
“We could see big, black whales floating in the water,” he said, describing the destruction wrought by nature. Because of the typhoon, the ship went to the wrong port.

Reaching Pusan, Korea after the horrific voyage, Sanders served at an elementary school that was converted into a hospital. Admitting people as they arrived for treatment, it was his job to get their information before they were seen by a doctor.

He remembers: “One fellow had a gun wound on his leg with blood squirting out.” Sanders, thinking he was doing the right thing, took the man straight up to surgery.

“The colonel jumped on me for taking him into a sterile room,” he said. The soldier was given several transfusions but Sanders never knew if he made it or not.

Most of the men they treated were sick with flu and pneumonia from the cold weather. Sanders himself slept on a cold cement floor in a sleeping bag; temperatures dipped below zero.

Looking back, Sanders says his experience didn’t harm him emotionally or physically as it did so many others; he was just ready to get home.

“I was my whole self when I got home. It didn’t hurt me, but I was glad to be home. I didn’t want to make a career of the Army. I wanted to get out and leave it with them.”

World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail: sharna_johnson@link.freedom.com