On Saturday, June 21, Sugar Valley Airport in Mocksville will host the Federal Aviation Administration presentation of a lifetime achievement award, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, to H.K. “Zeke” Saunders of Winston Salem, NC. The presentation by the Federal Aviation Administration will begin promptly at 10:30 AM in the blue hangar at Sugar Valley Airport.
The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years. Recipients are awarded a certificate and a lapel pin and are recognized in the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award – Roll of Honor.
Mr. Saunders, now 93 years old, received his pilot license in Lincolnton, NC in 1940 while attending high school. Upon graduation from high school in 1940 he took a job as a flight instructor in Martinsville, VA. In 1941 Mr. Saunders began training pilots for the Air Force as a civilian.
Mr. Saunders Joined the Army Air Force in 1944 and served all over the world. He made over 100 round trips from Burma to China flying the course known as “The Hump.” The Hump was the name given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort of Chiang Kai-shek and the units of the United States Army Air Forces based in China.
Mr. Saunders is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross medal. In 1945 Mr. Saunders took flew home survivors from the Bataan Death March, the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 60,000–80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II.
The Early Years of Piedmont Airlines
Upon completion of his military duties, Mr. Saunders returned to North Carolina and took a job with Piedmont Aviation as a flight instructor, working for Tom Davis, the founder of Piedmont whom he had met while a flight instructor in Martinsville, VA before the war. When Piedmont Aviation received certification and began its commercial airline business, Mr. Saunders hired and trained the first 10 pilots for Piedmont Airlines. Mr. Saunders retired from Piedmont Airlines in 1983.
Meet a Great American Aviator
Come on out to Sugar Valley Airport on Saturday morning and meet a man who embodies the history of the American Aviator and say thank you to a man who served our country so well.