About 70 years ago, for nearly three years, Paul Sanborn trained to become a member of a team that flew B-24 bombers. But by the time he and his crew were ready to go to war, it had already ended.
On Saturday, the 93-year-old World War II veteran got a chance to ride in the same plane he was supposed to fly before the Allies ended the chance.
Sanborn, along with eight of his friends from the Cape Coral Rotary, took a 30-minute flight on the B-24 Liberator, one of only two such planes still in use, from Page Field, around Southwest Florida, and back.
Paul Sanborn shows off the certificate he received for flying in a B-24 that was identical to the one he flew during World War II.
The flight was in honor of Sanborn and Tom Bowen, a Rotarian and B-29 crew member who died recently.
The story began when Alex Lambros got the idea of going up in one of those historic fighter planes.
"My friend wanted to fly on a B-17. But they had a B-24 and Paul had operated one. It kind of developed," said Lambros, a Rotary member and military veteran. "Look at this. I get goose bumps looking at it."
Lambros saw Sanborn one day talk about the B-24 and asked him if he ever wanted to fly in one again. He said he did and that put everything in motion.
Lambros said he and his wife snuck it in on him with a prank on Veterans Day.
"We were fining him for doing something wrong, and my wife showed him a picture and said he had to identify it or all the veterans had to pay a fine," Lambros said. "They showed the B-24 and he started talking about the horsepower, bomb load and everything. We knew it was a go."
The plane, named "Witchcraft," was brought here courtesy of the non-profit Collings Foundation as part of the annual Wings of Freedom tour with its sister ship, the B-17 Flying Fortress.
The flight isn't cheap. It costs $450 per person for a 30-minute trip for six to 10 people, with the money going toward the continued restoration of the planes.
Sanborn enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Dec. 7, 1942. After basic training, he went to Homestead, Florida, to start his career before going off to be an Aviation Cadet at Michigan State College.
"Everyone who went there went to be a pilot. You went to San Antonio, Texas, for them to decide what you are going to do or if they needed you," Sanborn said. "I didn't make it. I was called a borderline case."
He was assigned as a radio operator and went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for radio school, where he spent about 18 months. From there, it was off to gunnery school in Yuma, Arizona, before getting married and finally teaming up in his B-24 in Westover, Massachusetts, in December 1944.
"We were like a family because we lived together, flew together every day and had a lot of experiences," Sanborn said.
We flew to Chatham Field in Savannah, Georgia, to continue training over water and returned to Westover, positioned to go overseas to Europe to be a lead crew in a B-24 battalion.
They never got there. The trip was cancelled when it was evident the war was about to end in Europe. The crew was sent to Washington state where the war was still raging in the Pacific. While the pilot was sent to be a co-pilot on a B-29, the rest of the crew stayed behind as that war was coming to an end.
Sanborn was honorably discharged in January 1946 and years later would play a vital role in the birth of the city of Cape Coral.
"I always say not that I count, but I served three years, one month and 13 days. We flew for two years training. I don't know if we were that good," Sanborn joked.
More than 70 years later, Sanborn got another chance to fly, and he said he had always envisioned this, even if his balance isn't as it was before.
"I would be delighted to be positioned in the radio operator's seat that I occupied. I'm very honored to receive this. It's something I thought about doing," Sanborn said.
According to Acepilots.com, the B-24 was used extensively in World War II. It served in every branch of the American armed forces, as well as Allied air forces and navies.
Nearly 19,000 B-24s were produced, making it the most heavily produced bomber in history. By the end of the war, it started to fall out of favor to the B-29 and other planes.