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Writing book on war experience therapeutic to Stanislaus County man

Writing book on war experience therapeutic to Stanislaus County man

Jim Sanders with his book in downtown Ceres. The building behind him was once the Ceres Drug Store where he hung out as a teen before being shipped off to drive an ambulance in World War II.


POSTED September 11, 2009 10:31 p.m.
Only a naive country boy from Ceres, Jim Sanders found himself thrust into unspeakable horrors as a World War II ambulance driver. He came out the other side alive but troubled. Immersing himself with married life, family and a successful career, the bad memories were gone and Sanders got on with life. In his twilight years, however, the memories came on as strong as the rotting corpses he saw while moving around Europe.
“I think I’m more screwed up today over it than when I came out,” said Sanders, now a Modesto resident. “I came home ... finished San Jose State and we wanted to get married and I completely wiped it out ... and then it started to coming back to me at nights. If I wake up at night I’m still seeing that stuff. I’m probably controlled by that more today than I was all through my working life because I was busy.”
He massaged out the good and bad of his war experiences for a riveting book, “Saving Lives, Saving Memories: A 19-Year-Old Ambulance Driver in the Wake of Patton’s Army.” In it he tells the entire story of his upbringing in Iowa, country life in Ceres, and leads readers on an insightful first-hand view of what the war was really like. With the help of ghost writer Martha Loeffler, Sanders offers details that some he served with had forgotten.
He said he found the writing of the book to be therapeutic but wanted to record his personal experiences of family history purposes. That and to “try to counter these people who say there was no Holocaust because I actually saw two of those camps,” said Sanders. “They weren’t killing camps like Auschwitz. There were no gas chambers involved but thousands died for malnutrition, overwork or beatings. So it did happen. Maybe if this little book got out somewhere, maybe in a school, museum or library, people will say, ‘Well that old guy saw it so maybe it was true.’”
Sanders was drafted into the Army and was hooked up with the 427th Medical Battalion. The memories of his first batch of wounded or dying soldiers is a memory he hasn’t forgotten.
“We were just innocent kids,” said Sanders. “I still see that first load of casualties we picked up. I still see that man down on the right side with his head all bandaged and bloody and the doctor comes by and says, ‘Pull him out, he’s dead.’ That was our initiation. I was 19 by that time.”
He writes of one particularly disturbing incident. A German sniper had been shooting at Americans from a village bell tower and surrendered to a lieutenant after running out of ammunition. The lieutenant told his new prisoner, “You’re gonna shoot at us, then just stroll out and give yourself up?” The American raised his pistol and said, “Well, no way that’s going to happen” and squeezed the trigger.
“I was just absolutely amazed that he would do it,” said Sanders. “The guy’s problem is that he gave up to the wrong guy.”
Sanders’ book contains some off-color personal glimpses of G.I. life but lived such a wholesome lifestyle — coupled with his fear of sexually transmitted diseases — that he can tell them without embarrassment.
The R-rated and subdued blood and guts stories have found an appreciative audience. Readers have expressed appreciation to Sanders for giving a glimpse of actual life as a soldier.
“I just tell what happened. And I’ve had a lot of older people, ladies, tell me, ‘I never knew what happened in World War II. I never knew what the actual guy on the ground did or the ambulance drivers, what his life was like.’”
Sanders returned back home to marry Ceres High sweetheart Marian Gondring in 1948. He operated a gas distributorship and operated an equipment rental business in Turlock from 1964 to 1975.
Toward the end of the book he tells of visiting the beach at Normandy, France, with his grandchildren and strolling among the glistening crosses in the cemetery there to announce that “the grandfather now standing beside them could very well have been under this lush green grass.”
Things are a lot different with today’s generation of Americans than those who endured the war, Sanders said. While all Americans supported the WW II effort, dissension in the last wars is a result of newer generations being “more into themselves and their things.”
Sanders was inspired to write his book after reading Dr. Brendan Phibbs’ book, “The Other Side of Time.” Phibbs had a similar WW II experience. Sanders called Phibbs to express his appreciation for the book and then Phibbs encouraged Sanders to write a book.
“War is bad,” said Sanders. “It’s like they say, it’s hell. Mankind does not seem to be able to live on this beautiful station that we have without conflict. It seems incredible that we continue.”
Persons interested in learning more about Sanders’ story or ordering the book can visit his Web site, www.ww2ambulancedriver.com. The Web site also contains sample chapters. The book sells for $14.95 plus $2.90 for shipping.
Sanders will be selling and autographing copies of the book this Friday between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at First Street Frame Company, 226 N. First St., Turlock.

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