Deputy Superintendent Willis D. Saunders attended the Boston Public Schools, where he was a track star. During World War II, Saunders served with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. He studied engineering at Howard University and later earned several degrees from Northeastern University. He joined the Boston Police Department in 1956.
As a Patrolman, Saunders received the Department Medal of Honor his rookie year. While on patrol in old Division 10 in Roxbury, Saunders saw two boys pull a fire alarm. Saunders contacted the fire department and then raced to the burning home. A resident with a broken leg was visible from a third floor window. Despite heavy smoke, Saunders made his way to the third floor and carried the man out of the building.
As a Detective, Saunders worked with the drug and homicide units. As Deputy Superintendent during the late 1980's and early 1990's, Saunders responded to homicides throughout the city. He especially took to heart violence that touched young people.
When Deputy Saunders retired in 1992, he received well wishes even from people he had arrested over the course of his 36 year career. "I'm a fair man," Saunders reflected. "I arrested people with kindness."