Ernest M. Sands, 89, was a hero of World War II, a leader in the City of Velva for many years, a state senator and a lieutenant governor of North Dakota during the administration of Gov. Allen I. Olson from 1981 to 1985. He died Monday, April 9, 2012.
Though Mr. Sands was raised in Minot and had lived in Bismarck from 1980 until last year when he and his wife Ione moved to Minot, his most productive years were spent in Velva, from 1947 until 1980. He was elected to the Velva City Council in 1960 and to the office of mayor in 1962, a post he held until 1970. It was during this period he pushed for the paving of Velva city streets and for building a major dike as protection against a flooding Mouse/Souris River. The dike saved the city from the historic Mouse River flood of 2011.
He and his wife, the former Ione Yeager, were married May 8, 1944, in Pueblo, Colorado, where he was serving in the Army Air Corps. They owned and operated hardware and furniture stores in their first years in Velva. From 1961 until they left Velva, they ran a department store there. He also operated a funeral home at Velva that evolved into a partnership with Thompson-Larson Funeral Home in Minot. He sold or closed his businesses when they moved to Bismarck.
His military service is the stuff of legend that could only be fully told in a book or in film. He enlisted in the air corps in 1942. He was called up for aviation cadet training in 1943, entered officer candidate and bombardier school in 1944, and was commissioned a second lieutenant that same year. He was sent to England to serve in the 8th Air Force, assigned as a bombardier/navigator.
While on a mission flying in a B-24 over Germany, bombing refineries, factories, and power stations, his plane was shot down. He and his crew were successful in crash landing into the Charlemagne Forest north of Paris. A French boy about 12 years of age led them to safe hiding from German troops where they spent three nights before he showed them the way back to the British line.
On a later mission while leading 35 bombers on a raid of railroad tracks in Cologne, Germany, his plane was shot at again. This time, he and his crew parachuted from the plane. He landed near a large slough, managed to escape for a time, making it 90 miles to the southern border of Germany before being caught near a large river while trying to steal a boat.
All of the details of Mr. Sands’ seven months’ imprisonment are contained in biographical sketches he wrote and in a subsequent, more detailed interview. He and his fellow prisoners were liberated on April 30, 1945, by General George Patton. It was Mr. Sands’s birthday, and one of General Patton’s officers presented him with a loaf of bread.
By an act of the North Dakota Legislature, he was named Prisoner of War No. 1 for the State of North Dakota, and was presented with car license plate POW No. 1 for life.
He was born April 30, 1922, in Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada. His parents, Monroe E. Sands and Anna Catherine (Barr) Sands, had been born in the United States, making him a U.S. citizen by birth. In 1930, he moved to Minot with his family. He graduated from Minot High School in 1939. He attended Minot State Teachers College before transferring to the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks prior to enlisting in the air corps. Following his discharge and return to North Dakota, he completed his schooling at UND with a bachelor of science degree in business administration in 1946. A year later, he and Ione moved to Velva to go into business and raise their family.
His career in elective office as a Republican included his election from District 7 to three terms as a state senator in the Legislature from 1966 until 1980. His four years as lieutenant governor marked the beginning of that post as a fulltime position. He was active in the North Dakota League of Cities and served a term as president in 1966. He was given the Governor’s Leadership Award in 1964 and 1966 for his efforts in community betterment. Following his retirement from political office he worked fulltime at Boelter Funeral Home in Bismarck. He also worked as a lobbyist at the Legislature for the Anheuser-Busch Company.
He held life memberships in American Ex-Prisoners of War, the Velva American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and AmVets, all of Bismarck. He also was a member of the Bismarck Elks Lodge, and had been a lay leader of the Methodist Church. He was a 25-year member of the Velva Fire Department and served on the board of the Velva Medical Center. He was an honorary member of Minot Air Force Base.
Mr. Sands was known for being conservative in all aspects of his life and for the crewcut he retained from early adulthood on. He acquired the nickname “Jiggs” from his mother while still an infant. As his political record suggests, he believed in small towns and the significant role they played in American life. He liked helping people and encouraged them in their accomplishments.
He and Ione were married for 68 years. They met in high school. In one biographical sketch, he noted they went to all the school dances together. He was councilor for the DeMolay, and she was a past Rainbow girl and a past worthy matron of the Order of Eastern Star.
She survives, along with a daughter Nancy (Terry) Krumwiede, Voltaire; a daughter-in-law, Jackie Sands, Minot; grandchildren, Bryan Krumwiede and Renee Miller, both Velva, Kari (Cody) Cadwell, Grassy Butte, Heidi (Terry) Aannerud, and Adam Sands, all of Minot, and Michael (Sarah) Sands, Fargo; great-grandchildren, Tristen, Kaylie, Aric, Hunter, Callie, Keely, Chloe, Presley, Samuel and Griffen.
He was preceded in death by a son, William Sands, his parents, a sister, Verle Effertz, and a brother, Bryne Sands.
Funeral: Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 11 a.m. in Vincent United Methodist Church, 1024-2nd St. SE, Minot.
Visitation: Today, Friday, from 2 to 7 p.m. at Thompson-Larson Funeral Home, Minot.
Burial: Rosehill Memorial Park, Minot.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to a charity of the donor’s choice.