96-year-old WWII veteran makes annual pilgrimage to old Navy training grounds in Florida

Every Veterans Day, a World War II veteran makes a pilgrimage to South Florida, visiting the grounds where he trained to be a Navy plane tail gunner 75 years ago.

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Tim Maloney, 96, made his annual trek from Troy, New York, to visit the site of the old Fort Lauderdale air station, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Maloney has visited the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum since 2014. He arrived Sunday at the home of his daughter, Margaret-Ann Bolton, who lives in Parkland, and Monday he was ready to tour the site with his daughter, son-in-law and Gary Adams, who has been his guide the past five years, the newspaper reported.

"Tim Maloney is unique because he actually trained here," Adams told the Sun-Sentinel. "World War II veterans are getting pretty scarce, God bless them. It's really amazing to listen to their stories. They're truly America's greatest generation. They made a lot of sacrifices. We owe them a big debt."

During the 1940s, the Fort Lauderdale air station had 213 buildings, and Maloney trained on the Avenger torpedo bomber. All but one of the buildings was razed during the 1990s to allow for the expansion of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

The building where the museum is now housed was founded in 1979. It was moved to its current site west of the airport 20 years ago, the newspaper reported. It was built for $25,000 in 1942 and now is on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to the National Register of Historic Places website, future President George H.W. Bush spent 10 weeks at the Fort Lauderdale training site in 1943 before shipping out as a pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II.

The museum brings back a flood of memories for Maloney, according to his daughter.

"This is where he wants to be every Veterans Day," Bolton told the Sun-Sentinel. "When I was a little girl, he was always talking about where his squadron was formed. He's just really, really happy to be here."

Maloney said he had two close calls while training.

"I can remember getting out of the plane and the meat wagon — that's what we called it — coming up," Maloney told the Sun-Sentinel. "The radioman and the pilot were still in the plane."

All three were injured but flew again.

Maloney never flew a mission overseas. His superiors told him they already had enough pilots and sent him to study mechanical engineering, the newspaper reported.

"If he had been a pilot, I probably wouldn't be here," Bolton told the Sun-Sentinel. "Who knows what would have happened."

Bolton surprised her father Sunday with a memorial brick in his name that joined the others in the garden outside the museum, the newspaper reported.

The old Navy veteran said he has one wish -- to return to the base next year.

"He was in a couple (of) planes that went down while he was training here," Bolton told the Sun-Sentinel. "He's lucky to be here. If he hadn't survived, I wouldn't be here either. So I'm lucky too."

Maloney has one wish: To return to his old stomping grounds next year.

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