by Phil Peterson
Published in Midwest Flyer – Aug/Sept 2016 issue
HILLSBORO, WIS. – Round barns and long runways used to symbolize the quaint community of Hillsboro, Wis., located in the hills of southwest Wisconsin, but no more. The municipal airport – Joshua Sanford Field (KHBW) – will close soon to make room for expansion of a cheese factory recently purchased by Land O Lakes.
According to local officials, the airport is being closed with the full backing of the City of Hillsboro and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which refused to allow the runway to be shortened and create a displaced threshold. FAA officials apparently made this decision without ever visiting the airport, or exploring options with local officials and pilots.
On Saturday, June 18, 2016, the Wisconsin Flying Farmers flew into Joshua Sanford Field one last time, as they had done countless times to have lunch at “Barbie’s Kitchen,” and to pay tribute to the airport and its namesake – Capt. Joshua Decorah Sanford. Sanford was the only native American to fly with the famed Flying Tigers during World War II.
Born in a wigwam near Friendship, Wis., on January 19, 1919, Sanford’s mother was the former Maude Decorah of the Winnebago Nation; his father, Herbert Sanford, was a Seneca from Cayuga County, New York, and a graduate of Cornell University.
In early 1942, while attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Sanford enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After his pilot training, he became a member of the Flying Tiger Sharks, 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, 14th Air Force, stationed in Heng Yeng, China. Honors he received flying 102 combat missions between 1942-45 included two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Air Medals, the Purple Heart, five campaign ribbons, and Presidential and unit citations.
After the war, Sanford completed his education in electronics and was employed by Hallicrafters Corporation before returning to Hillsboro, where he established his own business.
In 1956, Sanford moved to Reedsburg, Wis. and managed the airport. In 1961, he was appointed the Civil Defense Director for an 11-county area and held that position until his untimely death on October 21, 1962 at the age of 43, due to complications from injuries he sustained in the service. He and his wife, Rosemary, are buried
in the Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Hillsboro.
Local Hillsboro resident, Richard Sweeney, was instrumental in getting the airport named in Sanford’s honor in 1993.
Sanford’s grandson, also named Joshua Sanford, lives in Green Bay, and was the featured speaker at the fly-in. Henry Peterson, the airport manager, and a local businessman, was the master of ceremonies.
On July 31, 2016, a brick was commemorated in memory of Joshua Sanford at the Memorial Wall next to the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis.
Hillsboro is named for the rolling hills of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area – an ancient landscape spared by the glaciers on the eastern edge of Vernon County, between La Crosse and Madison.