A new flight for old times’ sake

FORT WAYNE – The average age of the residents at Coventry Commons, an assisted-living community on Covington Road, is 88.

So when you sit down for lunch at one of the tables in the dining room, you really have no idea what sort of life story the person across the table might have to tell.

Carl Hornberger discovered that just a few days ago. Hornberger’s father, Richard, 87, moved into Coventry Commons a little more than a week ago, so his son decided to have lunch with him to see how he was adjusting.

Carl Hornberger also had a surprise for his dad. A World War II era B-17, a Flying Fortress, is flying into Kendallville on Sept. 2, so he’d bought a couple of tickets and was going to take his dad, who was a bombardier in WWII, for a ride on it.

During the conversation, Hornberger looked at another man sharing their table and asked him if he’d ever been in the service. Sure, Frank Peterson said. He was in the Army Air Corps and flew 37 missions, some as a tail gunner and some as a nose gunner.

As they say, who’d ’a thunk it? Two World War II fliers who’d been in bombers sitting at the same table?

When you think of it, though, that’s not that unusual. When you start looking at people in their late 80s or early 90s, particularly men, there are few who weren’t in the military in WWII, so one shouldn’t be too surprised that a couple of old fliers ended up at the same table.

Many of them have stories that are seldom told. Like Hornberger, who was stationed at bases all over the United States and taught to fly fighters before finally being made a bombardier. The war ended before he was shipped overseas, but he was still a flier.

Then there’s Peterson, who started out as a tail gunner in B-17s and B-24s before being switched to the nose, a job that paid about $25 a week.

“It’s a good place to sit,” Peterson said. “You see everything first.”

Peterson has some souvenirs from the war, too. He’s still got the telegram sent to his mother that reads, “The secretary of war desires me to express his deep regret that your son Staff Sergeant Frank W. Peterson has been reported missing in action.”

Peterson’s bomber had been shot down on the Russian border. He was rescued by Russian forces, who he says treated him like a king.

The coincidence gave Carl Hornberger an idea. He and his brother-in-law, who had also bought a ticket to take a flight on the plane, would split the cost and buy Peterson a ticket, too.

Next Friday, the two old fliers could take one more trip after 65 years.

Are they excited? Sure, Peterson said.

“I’m 87,” Hornberger said. “I’m not excited about anything any more.”

But you know he has to be looking forward to it.

Speaking of coincidences, the visit by a B-17 is one of just two that will take place in early September.

On Sept. 6-7, another B-17 will visit DeKalb County Airport in Auburn and will offer rides, too.

The trips aren’t cheap. Tickets are $465 each if you want to fly, but that’s a lot less than the price some people paid to fly in the planes 66 years ago.

Frank Peterson (left) and Richard Hornberger (right), both bombardiers during World War II


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