Joshua (Josh) Sanford was the only Native American to ﬂy as a pilot and flight commander with the famous Flying Tigers of World War II. This aviation group was so named because of the tiger shark jaws painted on the noses of their aircraft. Josh, otherwise known as “Chief,” was a descendent of Chief Decorah of the Winnebago (Ho Chunk) nation.
He was born near Friendship, Wisconsin. After graduating from Viroqua High School and attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Sanford enlisted in the Army Air Corps in January of 1942.
At the time, the United States was involved in the Indo-China war and Captain Sanford was sent there to serve his country and China. The Japanese, with a superb air fleet, had been easily attacking the Burma Road, lifeline of China, and Rangoon, and the seaport of Burma. Colonel Claire L. Chennault, a staunch friend of free China and the best tactician of military aviation in the Pacific, was assigned the task of leading the Flying Tigers to defend Indo-China.
With just a volunteer skeletal air force, the dependable P-40 Warhawk pursuit plane, along with the skill, courage and devotion of these Flying Tigers, victory would not be denied.
As a member of the 75th Fighter Squadron of the 14th Air Force, Captain Sanford ﬂew 102 combat missions had 7 enemy kills and numerous possible hits. He was shot down or ditched 12 times. For meritorious service, he received 10 medals, including the Purple Heart twice, and other honorable citations.
Thirty years after the war ended, the Chinese government awarded all veterans of the Flying Tigers the “China War Memorial Medal." It was awarded posthumously to Josh Sanford. Death came at the early age of 43 on October 21, 1962. War injuries were a contributing factor.
Rose, his wife, who has lived in Reedsburg since 1956 said, “Josh didn’t like to talk about his war experiences and chose never to shoot a gun again. He had seen too much killing."
Josh Sanford was manager of the Reedsburg Airport from 1956 until August of 1958. Then he was appointed Civil Defense Director for an eleven southwestern county area, including Sauk County.
Before residing in Reedsburg, the Sanford family lived in Hillsboro for approximately eight years. In his honor, the community named its airport The Captain Joshua Sanford Airport.