The 21 American servicemen presumed killed when two B-24 bombers vanished off Long Island in separate incidents during World War II were honored Monday by more than 50 people who gathered for a memorial service at East Farmingdale's American Airpower Museum, and by the dropping of flowers over the ocean from a cruising C-47 transport plane.
"They probably flew out with the best intentions," said Francis Kittle of Deer Park, 90, one of two World War II veterans and B-24 crewmen who made the trip over the ocean. "Only the Lord knows what happened to them."
The planes vanished on training missions in 1944 and 1945. Military accident reports were inconclusive, and extensive air and marine searches at the time failed to identify any wreckage.
A B-24 landing gear dragged up by a fisherman's net last year and now housed at the museum is thought by museum staff to be from one of the planes, based on where it was found, about 70 miles southeast of Shinnecock Inlet.
Kittle, a former aircraft mechanic who volunteers at the museum and helped identify the gear, said most of the aluminum and magnesium portions of the aircraft, if submerged in the ocean, would have disintegrated within a matter of years.
Along with him on the memorial flight was John "Jack" McMullen, 91, of Seaford, a B-24 pilot who flew most of his 32 combat missions over Europe.
The B-24 was a good plane but not the most durable, he said. Sometimes, flying in formation with other bombers, he'd look out the cockpit to see an aircraft catch fire. "The wing would fold back, and I'd think, 'Ten men, 10 seconds.' I'd count the numbers of chutes coming out of that plane, and the numbers usually weren't good. It is horrifying. But when you're 22, you're numb to it. . . . You have to steel yourself."
McMullen did not favor a broader search now for more wreckage. "It's been 70 years," he said. "Let sleeping dogs lie."