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World War II pilot goes for a ride

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - United States Air Force Lt. Col. Wendell Hanson (Ret.) describes his final mission in the China Burma India Theater during World War II, to the Downtown Lions Club members here, 17 July.  Hanson was asked to speak at the luncheon alongside the crew of a Mitchell B-25 that is in town for the Sioux Falls Airshow 2012.  The B-25 and several other historical and modern aircraft will be on display during the ai show 21 and 22 July. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Quinton Young)(Released)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - United States Air Force Lt. Col. Wendell Hanson (Ret.) describes his final mission in the China Burma India Theater during World War II, to the Downtown Lions Club members here, 17 July. Hanson was asked to speak at the luncheon alongside the crew of a Mitchell B-25 that is in town for the Sioux Falls Airshow 2012. The B-25 and several other historical and modern aircraft will be on display during the ai show 21 and 22 July. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Quinton Young)(Released)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - United States Air Force Lt. Col. Wendell Hanson (Ret.) tells the story of a piece of shrapnel retrieved from his seat of a B-25 aircraft during World War II to his family while waiting to board a bomber similar to the one that he flew.  The B-25 and several other historical and modern aircraft will be on display during the Sioux Falls Airshow 2012 on July 21 and 22. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Quinton Young)(Released)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - United States Air Force Lt. Col. Wendell Hanson (Ret.) tells the story of a piece of shrapnel retrieved from his seat of a B-25 aircraft during World War II to his family while waiting to board a bomber similar to the one that he flew. The B-25 and several other historical and modern aircraft will be on display during the Sioux Falls Airshow 2012 on July 21 and 22. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Quinton Young)(Released)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Lt. Col. (Ret.) Wendell Hanson, United States Air Force, was a bomber pilot during World War II in the 341st Bomber Group.  He flew over 50 missions in the China Burma India Theater during WWII and he had a chance to revisit some of those memories when he was given a ride in a B-25 Bomber here July 17.

After flying 40 missions out of India into Burma, Hanson's squadron was transferred to China in January of 1944. They had been reassigned to keep the Japanese from taking materiel out of China to fuel their war machine.

The squadron was told they would be flying low altitude missions bombing supply lines and runways. They would be flying between 150 and 200 feet above the ground while bombing and strafing enemy equipment.  They were also told by General Chennault, their commander,  that when they bring back some green on their props they will have flown at a low enough altitude.

When the squadron would bomb a target, the bomb would float down 150 feet and hit its target at 165 mph. The pilots knew they had hit their targets because they were low enough that the explosion from the bombs would lift the tail of the planes.

Hanson recounted his last mission with members of the Sioux Falls Lions Club when he was guest speaker at their luncheon at the Sioux Falls downtown Holiday Inn City Centre July 17.

"There were eight planes that I led on this strike, we started shooting with our .50 caliber machine guns, 12 of them on each ship, that's almost 100 guns going at once. As we flew over we dropped 25 pound bombs, each plane carried 200 of those, after we had passed over the area we did a one-eighty and came back over shooting our guns again. We had shot up all of the bombers and we had hit 30 of their "Zero" fighters, nobody trailed us on the way back." remembered Hanson.

During this last mission, Hanson's bomber flew through the explosions caused by their bombs and sustained damage. As they made it back to the airbase they were stationed at, they realized how bad the damage was. They no longer had hydraulic control of the landing gear. Hanson began preparing for a crash landing and the on board engineer told him to make another pass and he would get the landing gear down. As they came in for the landing they knew it was going to be rough and fast, after coming to a stop Hanson was so happy he fired his pistol in the air until it was empty. He was unaware of the fact the base was on alert for enemy bombers.

Now, sixty-eight years later, Hanson revisits the familiar seat of a Mitchell B-25 Bomber. The aircraft, in town for Sioux Falls Airshow 2012, brings back many memories for Hanson.

"I was happy to see that they still had the same type of gauges and controls that I used when I flew these bombers," said Hanson.

The Commemorative Air Force, an all volunteer organization, flies its B-25, "Miss Mitchell", in airshows across the country and offers rides to WWII veterans as well as others interested in aviation and the unique experience.

Hanson was grateful for the opportunity to fly in the bomber again and to share with his family his experiences from that era.