It wasn't Wencel Bohr's first bombing run over Tokyo during World War II, but when his plane, struck by flak, collided with another bomber, he and his crewmates thought it could be their last.
"We were coming over Tokyo, and all the anti-aircraft went off like mad," said Bohr, who served as a gunner on a B-29 bomber in 1944 and 1945. "It hit us real bad; it knocked out an engine, and that forced us to drop and lose speed."
The situation went from bad to worse moments later, when the plane lost its rudder following a mid-air collision with another bomber. Still, Bohr's pilot managed to regain control of the B-29; hours later they landed safely on Iwo Jima.
"It was a hair-raiser," a grinning Bohr said at his Eagan home on Thursday. Earlier this month, Second Congressional District Rep. John Kline (R) presented Bohr with a long-delayed Presidential Unit Citation and World War II Victory Medal for Bohr's role in the Aug. 8, 1945 raid.
The medals, which should've been Bohr's following the war, were never distributed and went unclaimed until Kline's office filed an inquiry on Bohr's behalf.
"The freedoms and liberties we and so many around the world cherish are owed to the blood and sacrifice of countless Americans like Mr. Bohr, a member of the ‘greatest generation,’ who answered his nation’s call in pursuit of freedom and a safer world," Kline wrote in a news release.
The recognition is just the latest development in Bohr's post-war story. Decades earlier, Bohr and his crewmates set out to save the very bomber that carried them back home on that harrowing bombing run.
The plane, nicknamed the Sentimental Journey, was located in Arizona. Bohr and others organized an effort to preserve the plane, which is now on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz.
The bomber is one of only three fully-restored B-29s left in the United States, out of the 3,900 B-29s originally manufactured, Bohr said.
Bohr, 87, moved to Eagan in 2004 and still owns and operates a restaurant upholstery business in Eagan. Tracking down the medals wasn't as important to Bohr, he said, as seeing his grandchildrens' reaction.
"Believe it or not, the kids look at me differently. I’m not just an old man anymore," he said, laughing.