B-24 flight provides trip back in time for Cape Coral veteran

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This past weekend, 93-year-old Cape Coral resident Paul Sanborn had a unique opportunity to turn back the hands of time.

On Saturday, Sanborn, along with eight of his fellow Rotary Club of Cape Coral Rotarians took to the sky in an authentic B-24 aircraft.

Saturday's flight marked over 70 years since Sanborn had flown inside one of the legendary B-24 aircrafts.

In 1942, as the United States was in the midst of World War II, a 20-year-old Paul Sanborn enlisted in the Army Air Corp with the hopes of becoming a pilot.

Unfortunately, for Sanborn, the dreams of piloting planes high in the air would not become a reality, "I was called a borderline case. I didn’t qualify," explains Sanborn.

Undeterred, Sanborn settled in as a Radio Operator/Gunner/Mechanic and spent the next two years training for the position. In 1944, Sanborn was "crewed up" with nine other soldiers and became a unit responsible for flying the B-24, "We were like a family. We lived together, flew together, trained every day," recalled Sanborn.

The crew continued their training at different stations across the country anticipating at any time they would be called over for active combat. However, they would never see deployment to active areas of the fighting, as the war was winding down by that time, and B-29s were replacing the B-24s as the planes of choice for the United States, "We were positioned to go overseas and was going to be a lead crew. They canceled us because the war was coming to an end. They had more airplanes than needed," says Sanborn.

After being discharged from the Army Air Corp in 1946, Sanborn went on to a successful business career, including being one of the pioneers of Cape Coral.

When the opportunity arose for Sanborn to return to the communications seat of a B-24, his Rotary Club jumped at the chance, "Paul was talking about the B-24, and I asked him if he wanted to fly on another one again, and he said, 'damn right.' That set everything in motion," explains Rotarian Alex Lambros.

The opportunity Lambros found was the Wings of Freedom Campaign by the Collings Foundation. The campaign travels across the country providing attendees a chance not only to see World War II time aircrafts such as the B-24, B-17, and B-25 but, the unique experience of flying in them.

Knowing the exhibit of wartime aircrafts was coming to the area, Lambros began planning the special excursion for Sanborn and those who wanted to join him. When all the details had been worked out, the club sprang the surprise on Sanborn at one of their weekly meetings, appropriately around Veterans Day, "We were going through our weekly fining ritual and showed him a picture of a B-24. We told him if he could identify it he wouldn’t have to pay," explains Lambros.

To the surprise of few, not only did Sanborn identify the plane, he listed off the specs and features of the B-24, and the club members knew they hit the jackpot.

Saying it was something he always wanted to do Sanborn was taken aback by the gesture, "I was dumbfounded they would do this. I was very honored."

As the time came for Sanborn to take his flight this past Saturday, he was joined by club members, friends, and family, who came to Page Field to share the experience with him. After a little finagling to get in the plane from underneath, Sanborn was situated in the seat he had occupied over seven decades ago with one slight difference, "The seats were a lot smaller than I remembered," said Sanborn with a laugh.

As the plane took off from the airstrip, it made its way up the Caloosahatchee River, over Cape Coral and Fort Myers, out to the Gulf of Mexico coastline before returning to Page Field. In all, it was about a half hour trip. A journey that was not only an experience for Sanborn but, for those who joined him on the flight, like Realtor and fellow Rotarian Jack Martin, whose father had flown B-24s over Germany and England in World War II, "It was pretty awesome. I wish he were here to do it."

For Sanborn, it was a day that the former Army Air Corpsman will not soon forget, in fact, one that he will always treasure, "It brought back a lot of memories of the people I flew with. I could close my eyes and imagine my crew and their particular places on the plane. It was an emotional experience."