FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– World War II veterans got the chance to take flight once more aboard restored aircraft.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” said WWII veteran John Mihalek.
Mihalek, 92, logged countless hours as the front Gunner on B-24s just like the one he boarded on Friday. At just 23 years old, he flew 37 missions in WWII.
“We’d go out at night with radar, pick up a convoy, we’d drop down to 400 feet and drop three 500 pound bombs,” said Mihalek.
He walked around the B-24 before getting on board and recognized many of the plane’s features.
“That was my turret where I sat for most of my missions,” said Mihalek when referring to those missions 60 years ago.
“March of ’45 is the last I flew in a B-24,” said Mihalek.
He and two other WWII veterans took to the sky thanks to the Collings Foundation.
According to its website, the “Collings Foundation dedicates itself to preserving the machines that helped build the world and helped keep it free; displaying these machines to honor those who were influenced by them; and to educate future generations about them.” They also coordinate tours between veterans and restored planes.
One of the most popular is the Wings of Freedom Tour which arranges rides for WWII veterans.
“When he found out, I don’t think he’s slept since then,” said Collings Foundation spokesman Rob Pehkonen. “It is so rewarding to see John get back and do one more mission and be able to fly into Fort Collins-Loveland.”
Mihalek’s face lit up after he boarded and the engines roared to full power. After take off, it was time to explore the plane he knew so well.
Mihalek crawled through the cramped underbelly to his old post, the Gunner’s Turret.
“Boy, this just reminds me of the old times,” he said laughing. “This is something I’ll never forget.”
RELATED LINK: collingsfoundation.org