Piedmont lands in Newton

The first time Harold “Zeke” Saunders attended Soldiers Reunion Day, he was about 7 years old.

“I remember my grandfather brought me,” he said. “It was a picnic type event where they served food.”

Now, more than 80 years later, the Sherrills Ford native and a World War II veteran, returned to his home county to attend another Soldiers Reunion. This time Saunders, 91, was part of the traditional Reunion Day salute to soldiers as grand marshal of the Thursday evening parade.

“It means a lot to me,” Saunders said of his selection to lead nearly 200 entries in the parade that traditionally draws thousands to Newton’s downtown.

And as the World War II pilot played a prominent role in the Reunion festivities, the airline he once helped lift off also received a special spotlight.

As a career pilot, Saunders served as a top executive and chief pilot for Piedmont Airlines which officially got off the ground in Winston Salem in 1948. After he flew more than 100 flights across the Himilayas during World War II, Saunders returned to the states and joined his friend and founder of the company’s fore-runner Piedmont Aviation Tom Davis. Saunders and other veterans from the North Carolina-based airlines held a reunion at the Old Post Office Playhouse on Thursday to celebrate the production “Speedbird,” a documentary film created by Catawba Valley Community College’s history department. The movie was screened at the OPOP after a luncheon that featured a reproduction of a first-class meal served on Piedmont Airlines flights around the region.

To read more of this story, pick up the weekend print edition of Catawba County's community newspaper, The Observer News Enterprise, at newsstands throughout the county.