Utah Sen. Jake Garn and his brother-in-law, Vernon Bingham, slipped into the flight jackets they wore in combat before taking a flight into history Friday.
Garn was invited to co-pilot a World War II-vintage B-24 that flew into Salt Lake City Friday afternoon for the West Jordan Land, Sea and Air Show.Bingham was a navigator on a B-24 crew during World War II and hadn't been back aboard one of the heavy bombers since he flew bombing missions over southern Europe. "I was just glad to get away from it in '45," he said, admitting that the invitation to climb back in the navigator's seat drew him to West Jordan from his home in Denver.
Bingham flew more than 50 missions in the nine months he was stationed in north Africa and Italy in 1943 and 1944. He survived several crash landings unhurt and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after his bomber experienced heavy damage during a run in southern Europe Feb. 12, 1944.
Bingham said he was nominated for the medal, one of nine he won in as many months as a navigator, for talking the bomber's pilot out of ordering the crew to bail out after two engines of the four engines and part of the rudder had been knocked out by enemy fire.
"We could only turn one direction because we took a rocket in the tail, and we kept losing altitude because we'd lost the two engines," he said. The 10-member crew slowed the plane's decent by throwing out machine guns, ammunition and even the plane's radio.
The B-24 flew into Salt Lake City from the March Air Force Museum, near San Francisco, and is one of several World War II-era planes participating in the weekend air show.
Garn said he had never flown in a B-24 before but has spent hundreds of hours piloting other four-engine military aircraft for the Utah National Guard after flying P-5M anti-submarine patrol aircraft in the Pacific during the Korean War.