Ken Lundberg had never been on a plane. Training for war, he was about to be assigned to field artillery but didn't like the thought of all that marching.
So he wrote a letter to Washington, D.C. He wanted to fly, he said.
"Doesn't everyone want to be a pilot?" he asked.
Lundberg, who was born in his grandfather's living room, in the same house where he now lives, enlisted in the Army at 22, in March 1941. World War II hadn't started for the United States, and he signed up for one year.
By December, he was on a boat with the 115th Cavalry C Troop, mechanized, en route to the Philippines. He awoke one day and noticed something wasn't right: Shadows were falling the wrong way. Pearl Harbor had been attacked, the young soldiers soon learned. As they slept, the boat had turned around.
"If I remember correctly, I was kind of happy that they turned around and went back."
Lundberg returned to Fort Lewis, Wash., joined Officers Candidate School and was assigned to field artillery. But he saw an advertisement calling for men who wanted to fly and responded. He sent the letter to Washington, D.C., without telling his artillery commander.
As Lundberg remembers it, the commander was so mad he lined up the other men to see who else had written letters.
Flight school was Lundberg's first time in an airplane. He flew solo after 10 hours of training. He loved most the rush of taking off and landing.
He received his wings in 1944 and flew B24s in Combat Training School. Once, he had been assigned to night flying. But his radio didn't work. Other planes had been stacked in the sky, waiting for the OK to land from controllers on the ground. Lundberg had no way to hear when it was his turn.
So he decided to go for it, to land anyway. Another plane had to turn around in midair right in front of him. On the ground, he learned that controllers were just about to turn off the runway lights. They thought he, with no radio, was a goner.
By 1945, he had been transferred to Air Transport Command in Calcutta, India. It was his job to fly supplies into China, to both support China's war effort against the Japanese and to supply U.S. Army bases there.
The Japanese had cut off China's major supply routes, including portions of the Burma Road. Even as Allied forces and civilians toiled to build a new supply route, the Ledo Road, the Chinese were going hungry.
But supplying China meant flying over The Hump.
The Hump, the Himalaya Mountains, is the highest place on earth, rising more than 20,000 feet. Mount Everest, the highest peak in the Himalayas, is 29,000 feet tall.
Pilots had few reliable charts and no radio navigation. Wind gusts could reach 125 to 200 miles per hour. They battled ice, snow and fog.
Of his 57 trips over The Hump, Lundberg says half were "flying on instruments."
"That means you can't see the tip of the wing. You only have the instruments to watch."
He heard that in one night, they lost 27 planes. It wasn't enemy fire, though pilots certainly had their share of that. It was weather. In all, and from all causes, The Hump claimed nearly 600 planes and more than 1,650 men, pronounced dead or missing.
Lundberg remembers Chinese women would step as close to the planes as they could, believing that the turning propellers would kill evil spirits following them. Some got too close.
He says his most spectacular flight was flying a B24 and its crew from Calcutta to the Philippines to hand-deliver a letter from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Lundberg doesn't know what the letter said, he never even saw it, but he knows it takes about 100 gallons of gas to get a B24 off the ground.
Lundberg might be the only WWII Hump pilot left in Wyoming. But he doesn't think it means much.
Coming home, Lundberg farmed and raised a family. But he got to fly his friend's private twin engine whenever he felt like it. He last flew it in 1999, on his 80th birthday.
It felt good, just like flying always had.
Lundberg remembers another story: Once, during formation flying, he and another pilot touched the wings of their B24s. On purpose. Just to see if they could.
"I didn't tell anyone," Lundberg said.
"Well, I have now, haven't I?"
They Served With Honor
Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.
"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.