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Flight 19

Through the Hoaxing Glass

The article that started it all.

   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 web site are already familiar with his tale, for which we now provide a new chapter.

   His 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 loath 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,  has a strange coincidence. Why would he have waited all these 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 planes, 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 help 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. The coincidence of his emergence after Cox’s death is hard to escape considering that Shoemaker also promotes himself now 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! But the position he gives himself provides him with 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.”

   His brief sortie out into the world of Flight 19 wasn’t much until those five bogus Avengers were found in 1991. Shoemaker claims he was in Fort Lauderdale at the time and made a big noise at the hotel that he knew it was false. According to him, the clerk called ABC to let them know they had one of the pilots and an “authority” there. He got on ABC briefly, and was then filed away.

   This landed him in some newspapers. The most tragic of which was the Arkansas City Traveler, which relied on the Daily Breeze article “that revealed more information about that day than has ever been told before.” It then quotes, tragically, Bossi’s mother Gertrude,

Shoemaker offered this photo to the Daily Breeze. It purports to have himself, Bossi, and Taylor in it. Taylor is supposed to be the second from left. It is not Taylor. Taylor was 6.1 and towered over other pilots. None of the other pilots of Flight 19 are in there. This is a squadron photo. Their training squadron comprised 9 pilots, but this is not it.

the last parent of any Flight 19 pilot left alive, who had fallen under Shoemaker’s spell. “He knew everything that went on that day,” Gertrude told the Traveler. “I was so glad to get the information from him because I felt the truth of the story had never been told yet. So many bad things had been published, never the truth. That really touched me to find the truth of the story.” Gertrude was 94 at the time, and passed away shortly thereafter.

   The article conveys how Shoemaker’s story got to the family. It is because of the Daily Breeze that Bossi’s sister, Bernice, in Santa Monica, read the article and contacted him. The snowball started and he told his elaborate story to the Bossi family in Arkansas. It then grew until he wrote some more down for Mr. Marrs in 1994, in which he invents other dialogue about the last moments of Flight 19. He then promised he was writing a book.

   A full copy of this letter is provided here, so that the reader can enjoy the imagination of Shoemaker before continuing.

   To review a few of the absurd points of his letter before continuing, we should note, once again, you cannot switch pilots in an Avenger with its engine going. 2, it takes at least a 12-foot ladder to climb up to an Avenger cowling; this is not done spur-of-the-moment. 3, Avengers cruised at 147 mph; it was impossible for Shoemaker to have even caught up with the flight unless he hit attack throttle, and the suggestion is ludicrous. 4, Each pilot was to lead a leg of the flight, but Shoemaker has Powers leading the whole time, with Taylor following at a high altitude (in actuality being the training officer Taylor would have to circle over the hulk at a much lower altitude in order to record the bomb hits on his knee pad). 5, there were only 4 legs of the flight. There was no extra leg for Shoemaker to have led. This course was designed for an instructor to train 4 pilots, not 5. 6, the bad weather set in that night; there was no bad weather during the flight. 7, and worst of all for Shoemaker, there was no magnetic bearing on the flight from Fort Lauderdale. If there had been, it would have solved the dilemma immediately about where to tell the flight to go. Fort Lauderdale could have quickly told Taylor he was in the Atlantic at xx magnetic bearing from the base. Shoemaker being able to tell how close or how far the pilots were flying near each other is yet another strand of comedy in this cloth of absurdity.

   For anybody who has a remote knowledge of Flight 19 and Naval training of the time, Shoemaker’s story borders on the bizarre. His story also never really cleared anything up. The Navy had always assumed they ditched. All Shoemaker did was add himself to the story and usurp Cox’s roll in the drama to add more authority to his tale. He added the magnetic bearing to pinpoint the location out in the ocean, not in some limbo or UFO. This hoax was made successful by the fact no member of the Bossi family bothered to read a book about the subject, nor to have ever obtained the Board of Inquiry Report. When I asked John Bossi whether he believed the story, I received a quick and definite yes. “He was there. I believe it to be 100 per cent accurate.”

   Despite the fast growing world of documentary TV in the 1990s, Shoemaker was never sought out to do any shows.  TV— well, most everybody— knew there was no 6th plane with Flight 19. In 1994 he wrote that letter mentioned above in which he ad libbed more dialogue and claimed he was the 6th pilot. That was about it.

   This brings us now to the December 5, 2001, Memorial Service for Flight 19 at Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Historical Association. A television crew was there, the producer of which I was familiar with as I had been asked to be interviewed later in California for this same show. Because a TV producer was there,  Alan McElhiney, the curator, said to Shoemaker: “Would you like to appear on the show they are taping? I’ll get you on if you make it brief.” According to Alan, Shoemaker said, “I don’t know how to make it brief.” Calvin was ushered into an office at the museum in order to give this “breaking story,” though the producer did not realize the dubious pedigree of Shoemaker’s story. The producer was “enraptured” by the story, so much so he didn’t bother to pursue how Shoemaker braked and switched planes with a 1,700 horsepower engine spinning that propeller. (Apparently someone had told Shoemaker that his earlier story was impossible. Shoemaker admitted to the producer that Avengers have only holding brakes, but does not offer how he stopped the plane on the runway and switched pilots without the plane taking off.)

   Shoemaker was true to his word. He took up so much time that those really involved with the incident were cut short or canceled altogether,  like Bill and Rita Smith.

   I was first clued into this when I received a Christmas card from Bill and Rita. In it was a newspaper clipping showing Shoemaker saluting his departed “friends” at the Service. It was then that I began some inquiries to discover if he had been interviewed.

   Well, when I broached the subject to the producer, informing him that the documentation is so clear on this incident, and that reliable witnesses are still alive, the general reaction was that “documentation proves nothing and government documents can be doctored, you know that.” 

You can put what label on it you want. The Sun Sentinel pic by R.C. Rique.

   Whoa! Eleven years working on these stories, and now I am told what the lay-of-the-land is by a man surfing in and out on an assignment?!?! Documents doctored to prove Bossi actually checked-out the plane he disappeared in so there is no room for Shoemaker’s fanciful account of switching planes on the runway? Whoa!  For the first time ever I had to withdraw from a TV show, this one to air later in 2002 for Discovery Channel.

   Those like Shoemaker are surviving because no one bothers to look into the details beyond their claims.  On the day Shoemaker arrived at the museum, he told his tale to military historian, Mike McGee. Both Bill and Rita Smith were waiting and overheard the tale. Bill’s first impression was “bull.” But McGee thought it sounded plausible. A couple of others have recalled somebody mentioning a 6th plane (Shoemaker has claimed this since 1990 and got on ABC, no doubt where they heard it). The museum has checked and indeed there were brakes on an Avenger, but no one has bothered to realize it is a holding brake. (The foot comes off and the plane takes off!) Most everybody, it seems, is eager to promote another story on the face of it, with faulty reasoning. Not a sensational tale— a dull debunking tale that gives its talebearer a place in history. Why bother to check on any details or even to consult the voluminous accident report of which the museum holds a copy?— it’s all doctored, is it not?

   We are living in a country of such hyper-con$piracy rubbish, it becomes possible for someone to promote such a conspiracy is responsible for trying to squelched Shoemaker’s tale. This would indeed be a heinous conspiracy, one that is capable of changing the report and all the minds of eyewitnesses. One that is capable of inventing all the inefficiency of transmitting the radio fix about Flight 19’s position, and all the damage to officer’s careers it caused— just so Shoemaker’s bizarre claim of having a magnetic bearing on the flight from Fort Lauderdale could be deleted from history. In essence, the conspiracy requires that 56 years ago the Navy foment a plan with the following logic: “Now, how can we prevent a simple solution to this Flight 19? I know, let’s cut out all references to the man who can mundanely blame it on ditching at sea! For it may be that in 45 years (1990) he may come forward and expose everything as being simple. Let’s give ourselves court martials and disciplinary action. Let’s stand amazed at Flight 19 just so Shoemaker doesn’t look right.”

   I think that those who provide themselves with the appearance of historian, researcher and expert will find the people not so stupid. It won’t be breaking news when it airs. For over 11 years too many have known about Shoemaker’s grandstanding. Shoemaker never got on the tube because so many are quite familiar with the impossibility of a 6th plane in Flight 19, and the Board of Inquiry report made it clear what the last dialogue was. The Board of Inquiry Report is easily and cheaply attainable at the Navy Historical Center.  There is no room for Shoemaker’s inventive and detailed dialogue. But because a producer can’t imagine why he would make this up, and that it seems possible, and that documentation proves nothing, it will get on the tube. Other offers will no doubt follow. But as we all know lie begets lie and one soon becomes entangled therein. When other producers ask him about why Bossi signed and accepted T-3, Shoemaker will, like when he is asked about the brake mistake, wrack his forehead and think up an excuse. Somehow he switched planes without turning the engine off. Somehow he will convince another producer the documents prove nothing. ‘Somehow I got in that plane. Somehow  I switched without it taking off. Somehow I’m a part of Flight 19’ . . .In essence, ‘Somehow I’m a part of history.’

     It’s only going to get him and Discovery a lot of heartache. As the Comedy Francaise said, “When an audience laughs with you, you are a success. When they laugh at you, you are ruined.”