Since so many have died who were associated with the actual Flight 19 incident, there is opportunity for those who, in journalistic parlance, are pejoratively called “bottom feeders.” They rise to the forefront of the food-chain because no one else is left. For Flight 19, this means they may have had some vague connection with the Naval base or perhaps stood in the same crowd with one of the pilots, but as for anything more substantive than that they are want. It also means that their stories were of little import or interest when the main players were alive. For this present story, we’ll find that it could not have been told until the main players were dead, for it would have been immediately contradicted by those who were real players in the drama of Flight 19.
This is the evolving story of Calvin Shoemaker. Followers of this website are already familiar with his tale, for which we now provide a new chapter. [Ed. 2016: It is best perhaps to reeducate people on the story. He placed it in written detail for an historical society in 1994. It follows here now:
03 July, 1994
Dear Mr Marrs
I conversed with John Bossi on several occasions and spoke with his mother once since Joe was lost on December 5, 1945. I have delayed writing my book, which includes the disappearance of Joe's flight, for obvious reasons.
Before joining the Navy as an enlisted man in August, 1941, I was raised in a small rural town about twelve miles southwest of Birmingham, Alabama.
Joe and I met in the Naval Aviation Cadet program in the latter phase of our flight training. After being commissioned Ensign and receiving our wings we were assigned to NAS Miami, Florida for operational flight training in the TBF Avenger, a three place single engine carrier based torpedo bomber. (TBF was built originally by Grumman and later by General Motors as the TBM.) In addition to the pilot, the TBF carried a gunner and a radioman— both enlisted men. Operational training flights included navigation, communications, gunnery, bombing, torpedo tactics, night flying, instrument flying, formation flying, carrier take-off/landings, and to some degree air-to-air weapons tactics, both offensive and defensive.
In November, 1945 we moved from NAS Miami up the coast to NAS Fort Lauderdale to continue the operational training in the TBF.
On 05DEC45 six crews (three men in each airplane, except one which carried only one crewman) -a total of 17 men, briefed for the flight (Flight 19) and proceeded to man the airplanes on the parking ramp. Taxiing from the ramp were; leading Lt. Taylor, USN; wingman Capt. Powers, USMC; wingman Capt. Stivers, USMC; leading second section Ensign Shoemaker, USNR; wingman Lt. Gerber, USMCR; wingman Ensign Bossi, USNR (who was unable to get his engine started).
Lt. Taylor and I both saw that Joe's engine would not start and noticed his crew chief removing the engine cowling. Joe and his two crewmen came running across the open field toward my airplane waving their hands over their heads signalling me to stop. Joe knew that I had already completed this mission on a previous flight and that it was not really necessary for me to perform it again.
I braked my airplane to a stop and throttled the engine back to idle. Joe climbed up on to my wing and shouted into my ear asking if he could take my plane and suggested that I could try and get his engine started and follow later to join up with the flight.
I relayed Joe's request and the circumstances to lead Lt. Taylor. Lt. Taylor concurred and I, and my crewmen, got out of the airplane, and Joe and his two crewmen entered and continued the taxi for take-off. This meant that Joe was now leading the second section with Gerber as his wingman.
I subsequently could not get Joe's engine started, so I returned to the Ready Room and "Radio Operations" ( just below the Control Tower) to hang-out until the flight returned. Joe and I had planned to go to a movie that evening.
Flight 19 departed NAS Ft. Lauderdale at 2:10 PM. The local weather was fair with low winds. The flight was scheduled to return to base before sunset.
The planned mission was to fly east to the Hen and Chicken Shoals (an old sunken ship hull) and make three bombing runs on the hulk- dropping small practice bombs; rejoining up in formation and proceeding on an easterly course —a distance of 123 nm; turn north for the second leg —73 nm, and then west southwest 120 nm for the return leg to base.
After take-off Taylor passed the flight lead to Capt. Powers (a normal training procedure). Taylor then assumed an aft trailing position behind his flight but at a somewhat higher altitude until arriving over the bombing target.
Following the bombing runs, Powers— with Stivers on his wing, and Joe in trail and a little wide with Gerber on his wing, continued east on- the first leg. Taylor flew ------ (purposely omitted). Ed. Purposely omitted by Shoemaker, for some reason, most likely because he didn’t know it.
At the point of turning into the third leg —a westerly heading —Taylor reassumed lead control of the flight from Powers. The weather was now multi-layered Clouds, rain squalls and a brisk southwest wind with heavy seas, (Surface ship's reports (logs) confirmed) .Taylor radioed that he was lost and stated that he thought that he was in the Gulf of Mexico. Taylor established a heading of 030 degrees. After that, he flew 090; then west; then east; then west for a short time; then turned to the east again. Back and forth; but mostly to the east.
Shortly afterward, NAS Ft, Lauderdale, et al, declared an emergency. At this time we at Radio Operations could hear some of Taylor's radio calls but not all; most were intermittent. We could hear Taylor better than he could hear us. In Radio Operations, there was an ADF "birddog" instrument on which we received a weak directional signal toward Taylor’s transmissions. I could hear Taylor talking with Powers. I heard Taylor — and Powers — calling in the blind for anyone to come up on the radio. I never heard Stivers or Gerber at any time on the radio.
On the next to last time Taylor picked up on an easterly heading (with a stiff tailwind) , Joe, leading the second section in trail with Gerber on his wing, said to Taylor, "if we turn to a west heading, we'll get home." Taylor responded,
"-------- and tighten up your position. A short time later Taylor turned his flight to a westerly heading for a few minutes; then again to an easterly
course. Upon Taylor's final decision to return to the east, Joe radioed to Taylor, “dammit, if you would turn west we would hit the coastline.” Taylor did not respond to Joe's plea.
It was now after sunset, dark, raining at the flight’s location and they were flying between cloud layers. The flight's radio signals were becoming weaker and weaker to Radio Operations— the birddog needle began to rotate with only a slight hesitation toward the received signal; then a steady smooth rotation.
I was spending my time between the control tower and Radio Operations. At sunset I approached the Operations Officer and requested permission to take the "ready airplane" aloft for radio relay to Flight 19— he refused the request.
Getting no response from his last urgent demand for Taylor to turn around to a west heading, Joe radioed that he was turning to a heading of 270 degrees and “ - - - - - if anyone wants to go with me, join up."
Joe, Taylor and Powers ditched heading west before 8:00 PM. Joe ditched last. I heard Joe declare his intentions before starting his flight descent on instruments several hundred miles on a magnetic bearing of 055 degrees from NAS Fort Lauderdale.
Please extend my best regards to John and the Bossi family.
Very truly yours,
Shoemaker’s account of the events of that day proves somewhat boring except for the entertainment value inherent in audacity. He first told it on December 2, 1990, in the Los Angles Daily Breeze, entitled “Triangle’s Truth.” In this germinal story he also expresses what I believe is the motivation behind his novel claims. To be brief, he seems to have such a loathing for the idea of mystery and “magnetic forces” involving the loss of Flight 19 that he has, wittingly or unwittingly, constructed a tale to prove them false. To give his tale authority, he promotes the idea that he was there, and even better that he had a personal stake in the flight by having been the “6th pilot.”
But being the 6th pilot left standing on the runway isn’t enough to debunk the sensational from Flight 19. He has to be in a place to hear the last dialogue and thereby confirm today that Flight 19’s fate was a mere ditching at sea after getting lost, after mutiny and confusion. He even gives the exact magnetic bearings (which are completely apocryphal), and the last words of the flight (which are also apocryphal). The article implies there’s a lot of “unofficial conclusions” which bear him out which do not appear in the “Report.”
The emergence of Shoemaker’s story in 1990, some 45 years after Flight 19 vanished, had a strange coincidence. Why did he wait all those years? Flight 19 and the Triangle certainly weren’t hot news at the time. Perhaps it was the death of Robert F. Cox? He was the pilot who truly did have contact with Flight 19; who, when landing, requested to take the Ready Plane out and find the lost squadron, for he was sure he knew where they were. His request was denied, so he waited around the tower until past 6 o’clock that evening, listening to what brief dialogue Fort Lauderdale could overhear.
Later investigation by the Board proved Cox was right, but that was no comfort for Cox. He had spoken out strongly about dereliction of duty on the ground, and he believed his career suffered for it afterward. Cox’s involvement is well-documented, both then and afterward.
But Calvin Shoemaker is obscure, both then and until Cox dies. It is hard to accept his emergence into the spotlight after Cox’s death as coincidence considering that Shoemaker also then promoted himself as being the man who insisted on taking the Ready Plane and then, when denied, waited around the tower to hear all the dialogue— more than anybody else present ever heard! It is a complete steal of Robert Cox’s identity and part in the drama of Flight 19. A very bold theft considering how documented Robert Cox’s part was.
However, his audacious but unoriginal lie gave him the authority to dogmatically debunk any notion that Flight 19’s disappearance was anything but the slip-up of Charles Taylor. This, I think, is his solitary purpose. This, and that his buddy, Joe Bossi, actually took over the flight and headed them west until they ditched. End of mystery, end of anything unusual. As the article reads: “Shoemaker considers himself an authority on Flight 19.”