By Ken Kaye, Sun Sentinel 4:49 a.m. EST, November 11, 2013
Sixty-eight years after five Navy torpedo bombers took off from Fort Lauderdale and vanished without a trace, artifacts have surfaced that bring one of aviation's greatest mysteries into sharper focus. Among them are an aviator's flight logbook, a citation personally signed by President Harry Truman and never-before seen photos of crew members. All had been sitting unnoticed in an envelope for about 50 years in the home of a crew member's family. Now, the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum — which is dedicated to keeping the memory of the ill-fated Flight 19 squadron alive — plans to eventually display the items.
Also known as the Lost Patrol, the five TBM Avengers took off on Dec. 5, 1945, on a routine training exercise. But 90 minutes after takeoff, the planes got lost, ran out of fuel and apparently ditched in the Atlantic. Despite a massive search, the 14 crew members of Flight 19 perished.
"I'm sure the families of the crew members have other logbooks, but this one is the only artifact, known to the public, directly relating to Flight 19," said Minerva Bloom, a volunteer docent at the museum. She was referring to the aviator logbook of Walter Parpart Jr., the radioman in the lead plane, which documents his training in the months prior to squadron's disappearance and has some interesting side notes.
"Japan accepted peace terms. I still don't trust them," Parpart scribbled in the log on Aug. 12, 1945, three days after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
How did the items surface? A family member recently noticed Parpart's photo wasn't included on the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum website. Ken Campbell, a Milwaukee businessman, knew the museum planned to hold its annual ceremony on Dec. 5, honoring the squadron. So he contacted his aunt, Maureen Campbell Clark, Parpart's stepsister, and told her about the photo omission. That's when she remembered the envelope, dug into it and not only found two photos of a happy-go-lucky Parpart, posing with his crew member buddies, but also the logbook and the Truman citation. She also discovered letters from the flight leader's mother, questioning whether the Navy could have prevented the flight from getting lost. Campbell Clark, 73, of Manchester, N.J., immediately contacted the museum last month and offered to donate them.
"What are the chances that I even held on to this stuff after all these years?" she said. "But I'm so glad we were able to make the contribution."
Until now, the Naval Air Station museum, on the west side of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, had been unable to find any photos of Parpart, said Bloom. "He was a beautiful young man, excited to do something for his country," she said.
The museum must make some internal improvements before it can open to the public and display the items. Mainly, it needs to install a handicapped restroom, which officials hope to do soon. Housed in one of the original Naval Air Station buildings, the museum is loaded with books, plane models, photos, uniforms, a flight simulator and other memorabilia from Fort Lauderdale during World War II.
Parpart, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., signed up with the Navy shortly after graduating high school at age 17. He had the blessing of his father, but not his mother. "He thought the war was coming to an end, and he so wanted to join Navy," said Campbell Clark, whose mother married Parpart's father after both had been widowed. Campbell Clark never knew her stepbrother; she was only four years old when he took off with Flight 19. His logbook survived because he kept it in his locker rather than on the ill-fated journey, she said. The log shows he started flying torpedo bombers as a radioman, sitting behind the pilot, in April 1945. He was also trained to fire one of the plane's machine guns. On Aug. 24, 1945, he wrote in the book, "Graduate tomorrow. Get wings on Saturday." In all, the book recorded about 77 hours of training, with the last entry being a 4.6 hour torpedo training flight on Nov. 28. About a week later, he was the radioman on FT-28, piloted by Lt. Charles Taylor, the leader of Flight 19. The flight was supposed to make a practice bomb run in the Bahamas and conduct a navigational exercise.
But after departing the Bahamas, Taylor reported his compasses were malfunctioning and apparently got disoriented in night and bad weather. Most experts think the planes went down somewhere east of Daytona Beach. During the ensuring search, 13 more servicemen were killed when their large twin-engine seaplane crashed. In the aftermath, numerous theories arose, including that the planes were simply swallowed by the Bermuda Triangle, the mythical area between Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, where hundreds of ships and planes have purportedly vanished.
Jon Myhre, of Sebastian, a former air traffic controller who has been searching for Flight 19 for more than three decades, said the new artifacts provide insight into that era. "The interest in the flight has waned over the years," he said. "But I think people still like it, because it's still a mystery."
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Copyright © 2013, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Never before seen photos of Flight 19 radioman Walter Reed Parpart, Jr. have recently surfaced.
Story by videographer and editor Taimy Alvarez, Sun Sentinel.