A de Havilland DH 98 Mosquito at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Just shy of 80 years ago — a lifetime by many people's standards —Thomas Horton trained to fly in a bomber made of balsa wood.

Yes, that wood: The lighter-than-air material you buy in pre-punched sheets to assemble your kids' toy gliders, the wood that sinks to the thickness of a saltine when you step on it.

Horton flew three generations of the World War II wooden aircraft, formally titled a de Havilland DH 98, but nicknamed the Mosquito, in 111 missions over Germany. And nearly 80 years after he left New Zealand to do it, his native country bestowed its service medal on him.

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