US Air Force

Van Cortez Sanders

1941 ~ 2021 (age 79)


Van Cortez Sanders, age 79, died at home in Woodland Park, Colorado, April 2021.

Van was born June 12th, 1941, in Newberry, South Carolina to Van Cortez Sanders Senior and Alice Kitchens.  His father was an alcoholic and became physically abusive as Van approached his teens, at which point his mother left.  She got up one morning in Newberry, South Carolina, packed the car with the household belongings and drove all the way to her family back in Mississippi, with two small children.  In the mid 1950’s, it took guts!

That is where Van grew up, in the little town of Marks in the heart of the Mississippi Delta  'down highway 61' as Bob Dylan would say 'home of the blues'. It was like growing up in Mayberry RFD.

Van knew there was a great big world out there. He wanted to become a jet pilot, in combat of course, and secured an appointment to the Air Force Academy. It was through the Academy Social program that he met and married Juliet.  They remained happily married for over 50 years.

The war in Vietnam was heating up, and it wasn’t long after graduation from the academy that Van got his wish.  He was a decorated fighter pilot flying F-4s with the 559th Tactical Fighter Squadron.  He retired as a full colonel in 1992 having been awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Meritorious Service Medals and 16 Air Medals during his career.

Following his service in Vietnam, he and Juliet lived in the usual variety of air force bases, including positions in UK air ops and planning and culminating in Air Attaché to the US Embassy in Portugal, where he served for several years.

Van revelled in travelling the world, enjoying the culture, history and personalities, but always knew he would retire to the peace and beauty of Colorado.  He and Juliet bought a secluded property on the slopes of Pikes Peak, and became, in his own words ‘hermits’.

Van is survived by his wife, Juliet, currently residing at the Forest Ridge nursing facility in Woodland Park, and by his brother Tom, who lives in the UK.  

A private interment will take place on Friday, May 7th.  A full military funeral ceremony will be held for Van later in the year, and any of his friends and colleagues who would like to share in this are invited to contact Tom Sanders on so we can be sure to send you all the details.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Van Cortez Sanders, please visit our floral store.


May 7, 2021

11:29 AM
Mountain Memorial Funeral Home
51 County Road 5
Divide, CO 80814