Last Monday morning, two World War II veterans, Frank Kittle, 90, and Jack McMullen, 91, held bouquets of roses and boarded an old warplane at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, N.Y.
Their mission was to honor 19 soldiers who most likely crashed in to the Atlantic off the coast of eastern Long Island 70 years ago in two B-24 bombers running training missions before going overseas.
Neither the plane nor the crews were ever found. Their stories were forgotten until May, when a clue to their disappearance emerged from the ocean.
A local fisherman off the East End of Long Island found a 600-pound rusted piece of metal that resembled the landing gear of an airplane, some 250 feet underwater.
“I knew it right away it was a B-24 landing gear,” recalled Mr. Kittle, who volunteers at the American Airpower Museum on Long Island.
By tracing the landing gear’s serial number, and checking military records, Mr. Kittle and fellow museum volunteers concluded that the landing gear was probably from a B-24 that, along with its 11-man crew, went missing off the coast of eastern Long Island on April 7, 1944 just two months before D-Day.
On Monday, the plane approached Fire Island Inlet, flying at about 1,400 feet. A crew member opened an emergency exit so that the old war veterans could drop the roses down.
“This is for all the men who never came home,” Mr. McMullen said.