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Vernon County Museum Notes

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Capt. Joshua Sandford

Capt. Joshua Sanford, 75th Fighter Squadron, stationed in China in 1944-45.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and this November we’ve been looking at the life and legacy of Joshua Decorah Sanford. He was born near Friendship, Wisconsin, in 1919 to a Seneca father and a Ho-Chunk mother. During World War II, Joshua was a fighter pilot with the famed Flying Tigers. Before and after the war, he lived in Hillsboro, right here in Vernon County.

Continuing the story from where we left off, in the late 1950s the Sanford family was living in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. Joshua was the manager of the Reedsburg airport, his wife Rosemary was the principal of Rock Springs Elementary School, and their children Maureen and Bill attended Sacred Heart School in Reedsburg.

During the war, Joshua had been wounded in action, for which he received a Purple Heart, and he continued to suffer from those bullet wounds long after the war. He was hospitalized for over a year around 1960 with complications from the injuries. When he was released, he found a new job as a factory representative for the Radio Corporation of America. In this job he could continue to use his radio and electrical engineering experience.

He also served as the Sauk County Civil Defense Director, and in 1961, he was appointed Director of Civil Defense for 11 counties in southwestern Wisconsin. However, his health was declining, due to a combination of war wounds, a kidney ailment, and diabetes.

Joshua Sanford died on Oct. 21, 1962, at a hospital in Madison. He was 43 years old. He was buried with Catholic rites at the Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Hillsboro, where his father Herbert had been buried in 1951. Wife Rosemary would join him there in 1998.

Hillsboro honored the memory of Joshua Sanford by renaming its airport the Joshua Sanford Field Airport on May 30, 1993. A morning of festivities for the airport renaming included the presentation of a painting depicting Sanford’s World War II experiences to his widow, Rosemary, who in turn donated the painting to the city of Hillsboro. The airport closed in 2016.

Joshua’s name was added to the Memorial Wall next to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Aviation Museum in Oshkosh in 2016. And in 2018, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, also at the Aviation Museum in Oshkosh.

You can learn more about Joshua Sanford at the Vernon County Museum, where we have a file full of information about him. If you have something additional to contribute to the file, please contact the museum at 608-637-7396, or, or stop by during our regular winter hours of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 4 p.m.


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