Donald Ward Saunders was born in Athens, New York, 28 March 1913. He graduated from Athens High School and attended Cortland College, Cortland, New York.
On 14 June 1938 he graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Field Artillery.
In September 1938 he was assigned to Flying School at Randolph Field, Texas. Upon completing and graduating from flying school at Kelly Field, Texas on 25 August 1939 he was transferred to the United States Army Air Corps and assigned to Kelly Field for duty.
After serving as Base Adjutant and Stage Commander at Moffett Field, California in 1940 and 1941, he was assigned to Four-Engine Flying Training. He served as Director of Flying of the B-17 School, which was opened at Hobbs, New Mexico in October 1942.
In April 1943 he was assigned and assumed command of a B-17 Provisional Group at Blythe, California. After flying this group to England, he returned to Dalhart, Texas, to take command of the 333d Bomb Group. In January 1944 he left Dalhart and reported to the XXI Bomber Command, Salina, Kansas.
He was further assigned to the 498th Bombardment Group of the 73d Bombardment Wing and took command of the 874th Bombardment Squadron in March 1944. After training, he departed the United States for Saipan with the 73d Bombardment Wing in October 1944. During the Pacific Campaign he served as Deputy Squadron Commander and Deputy Group Commander; and in July 1945 assumed command of the 498th Bombardment Group. At the cessation of hostilities, he returned with the 498th Bombardment Group to MacDill Field, Florida.
He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters; the Bronze Star; the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters. He is a Command Pilot and during World War II flew 25 combat missions totaling 350 combat hours in the Pacific Theater.
After attending the first Air Command and Staff School class at Maxwell AFB, Alabama in 1946 and 1947, he was assigned to the faculty of that school. In 1950 he was assigned to Headquarters United States Air Force for duty with the Director of Operations. In 1953 he attended the Air War College. After graduation he was assigned to the Strategic Air Command for duty as Director of Operations of the 12th Air Division, March AFB, California.
He assumed command of the 303d Bomb Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona on 19 November 1954.
Assuming command of the 57th Air Division at Westover AFB, Massachusetts on 24 September 1956 in the rank of Colonel, he was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October.
General Saunders was among 15 men killed in the crash of a KC-135A aircraft on June 27, 1958, near Westover AFB, Massachusetts during the crew’s attempt to break a transatlantic flight record. The aircraft crashed after striking power lines shortly after taking off from Westover AFB.