SAN DIEGO — At a time when World War II seemed unending, a dozen Navy men training in Southern California to continue the fight were killed suddenly in an aircraft collision.
News of the midair crash atop Palomar Mountain in San Diego County on May 30, 1944 largely escaped notice with the war raging overseas. A group of PB4Y-1 Liberator bombers were flying low and interacting with FM-2 Wildcat fighter aircraft that were performing mock intercepts. One of the fighter planes collided with one of the bombers.
Now, more than 70 years later, these men are at last being honored with their own memorial.
A group of dedicated researchers last month paid tribute to the fallen Navy fliers with a bronze memorial near the crash site atop Palomar Mountain, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. The commemoration includes a 2-foot-tall family crucifix one of the men had been given when he went off to war.
The crucifix hung for decades in the Rhode Island home of Paul Cimbron, whose uncle, Navy Aviation Radioman Raymond L. Shovelton, died in the crash. It was a gift to Shovelton by his parish priest and returned to his relatives after he was killed.
Cimbron said last week that he was thrilled that the family heirloom made its way to where his uncle died.
"I'm beyond pleased; it's a fantastic thing," he told the Times.
The crucifix was not the only personal item related to the crash that helped complete a family story decades later, the newspaper said.
In 1988, a San Diego County man, Rob Young, was hiking in the area and exploring the crash site when he found a high school graduation ring beneath a log. The ring, it was later determined had belonged to Aviation Machinist's Mate Clinton Baker of St. Cloud, Minn., another member of the doomed bomber's crew.
Young's stepfather, Ray Wilson, would later travel to Minnesota and present the ring to Baker's younger brother, who in turn gave it to his son, Clinton, whom he had named after his long-lost brother.