Out of that “nothing,’’ though, has come a tradition: the annual ceremony remembering the men lost in Flight 19 and the rescue effort.
The annual event also helps to promote the small military museum that memorializes Broward’s place in World War II.
The Fort Lauderdale naval air base was only open for about four years, from 1942 to 1946, but it had a lasting impact on the war effort, said Minerva Bloom, a volunteer and curator of the museum.
Naval pilots, gunners and radio operators all trained at the base to work only one plane: the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber.
A total of 95 people lost their lives at the base during its active operation, Bloom said, including the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13-man rescue crew that disappeared. The others died in training exercises and accidents, Bloom said
Among the men who passed through the air base during the war: former President George H.W. Bush, who is the subject of a permanent exhibition showing the living quarters of men who trained at the base.
Many attribute the museum’s existence and the annual ceremony for Flight 19 to the efforts of Allan McElhiney, 87, a World War II veteran who first held a memorial for the lost aviators in 1983.
McElhiney helped collect the documents, photographs, articles and artifacts that make up the museum.
He also mustered public support for the museum through a grant that allowed Broward officials to salvage the last remaining building from the former base. The museum is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I recognized all the history that was being lost,’’ McElhiney said after the ceremony.
Of all the stories related to the former base, the one of Flight 19 was particularly moving for McElhiney.
“It was a very tragic way to die,’’ he said. “I’m sure some of the men on those planes realized they were going the wrong way and knew they were going to die.’’