Monument to crew lost during Flight 19 search will be dedicated April 11 at Patrick


A granite-and-bronze memorial bearing the names of 13 crew members aboard a Martin PBM-5 Mariner flying boat that disappeared during the search for Flight 19 on Dec. 5, 1945 will be dedicated during a private ceremony at 10 a.m. April 11 at Patrick Air Force Base.

SENIOR LIFE courtesy of Jon Myhre

More than 70 years after a Martin PBM-5 Mariner flying boat carrying 13 crewmen vanished while searching for five Navy torpedo bombers whose disappearance launched the legend of the “Bermuda Triangle,” their sacrifice will be remembered with the dedication of a monument on April 11 at Patrick Air Force Base.

The granite-and-bronze memorial bearing the names of the men lost on Dec. 5, 1945 will be dedicated during a private ceremony at 10 a.m. April 11 at Patrick Air Force Base. U.S. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) is among the officials scheduled to attend, his spokesman Rob Medina confirmed.

“I’m pleased to see our community come together to dedicate this memorial which honors the service and courage of the brave Naval officers and crew members who were lost in the line of duty,” Posey said in a statement.

The Mariner was one of two dispatched the evening of Dec. 5, 1945 from Naval Air Station Banana River, the former name of Patrick Air Force Base from 1940 to 1947, to join in the search for five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers carrying 14 crew members. “Flight 19” had been reported missing earlier that day after a training mission from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas and back.

Known as “Training 49,” the Mariner called in a routine radio message, then was never heard from again.

At around that same time, a tanker crew reported seeing flames from an explosion about 30 miles east of Cape Canaveral. The crew searched for survivors and wreckage, but found nothing. 

The disappearances of the five TBM Avengers, the seaplane and their combined 27 crew members triggered one of the largest peacetime air, sea and land searches in U.S. history. Some 300 boats and aircraft scoured 300,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, but no trace of the planes or the crew was ever found.

The tragedy spawned the myth of the “Bermuda Triangle” or “Devil’s Triangle,” a 500,000-square-mile region of the Atlantic bounded by Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico, where dozens of ships and airplanes are said to have disappeared under unusual circumstances. Believers in the paranormal claimed Flight 19 fell victim to magnetic abnormalities, parallel dimensions or even extraterrestrial visitors.

In Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science-fiction blockbuster “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” aliens in a giant UFO swallowed Flight 19, deposited the planes in Mexico decades later and released the crew, unharmed and still youthful, at Devils Tower, Wyoming.

A 500-page report by a Navy board of investigation, published a few months after the planes were lost, concluded the Flight 19 airmen apparently became disoriented and ditched in rough seas after running out of fuel. The report also attributed the loss of the Mariner to a midair explosion. 

The monument is “dedicated to all U.S. Naval Personnel who served at Naval Air Station Banana River (Patrick Air Force Base) October 1940 to August 1947 in particular to the Officers and crew of ‘Training 49’.”

The bronze memorial plaque is inscribed with the names of Mariner crewmen:

• Walter G. Jeffery, LTJG, USN

• Harry G. Cone, LTJG, USN

• Roger M. Allen, Ensign, USN

• Lloyd A. Eliason, Ensign, USN

• Charles D. Arceneaux, Ensign, USN

• Robert C. Cameron, RM3, USN

• Wiley D. Cargill, Sr., Seaman 1st, USN

• James F. Jordan, ARM3, USN

• John T. Menendez, AOM3, USN

• Philip B. Neeman, Seaman 1st, USN

• James F. Osterheld, AOM3, USN

• Donald E. Peterson, AMM1, USN

• Alfred J. Zywicki, Seaman 1st, USN

The Mariner monument is about 50 feet from the base’s old seaplane ramps, where Training 49 started its fateful flight.

The memorial is presented by the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Historical Association and Naval Air Museum Fort Lauderdale members. The museum’s main focus is on the Navy and specifically Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, a torpedo bomber training base during World War II and the home of Flight 19. The museum also has a Flight 19 display.

Sebastian resident Jon Myhre, a researcher of the famed “Lost Patrol” and a lifetime member of the historical association, helped lead the effort to build the monument. He paid for its granite base and split the cost of the plaque with the association.

“I’m very proud to have played a small part in the construction of the monument honoring the men who served at the Naval Air Station Banana River during WW II, and the 13 crewmen of TRAINING 49 lost during the search for Flight 19,” Myhre said in an email. “The monument’s new home, next to one of the old seaplane ramps at Patrick Air Force base, is in a beautiful location. I think it’s a fitting tribute to the Navy personnel who served at the old Naval Air Station.”

Another museum member, Edgar “Buddy” Galvin, a 94-year-old World War II veteran who participated in the search for Flight 19, also will attend the ceremony, Myhre said.

The push for a monument came after the Viera Voice ran an article in November 2015, noting that Patrick had no memorial or historical marker dedicated to the lost Mariner crew. Posey then contacted the Air Force about the possibility of erecting a memorial.

“I commend and thank Mike Gaffey and Jon Myhre, along with all those who helped raise the funds for this tribute, for their diligence in assuring that the lives of these heroes who were dispatched from the Naval Air Station Banana River so many years ago are memorialized,” Posey said.