Niagara County native, World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient Everett A. Fitchlee will be honored for his military service from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the Elks Lodge, 6791 N. Canal Road, Lockport.
In March 1943, Fitchlee joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was sent to the Curtiss Wright Co. in Glendale, California, for engineering and gunnery school. After further training in other locations, he was assigned to the 390th Bomb Group as the gunner of the top turret on the new B-17 bombers, known as the “Flying Fortresses.”
On Oct. 16, 1944, Tech Sgt. Fitchlee was on his fourth bomber mission when he was hit in the back by shrapnel from a German 88-millimeter gun for which he received the Purple Heart. Following surgery, Fitchlee was given the shrapnel that was taken out of his back and still has it today. After Fitchlee recovered, he returned to active duty with the 390th Bomb Group. When he returned to the air base, he learned his fellow crewmembers had been shot down on Nov. 30, 1944. Six men were killed and three were taken as POWs for the duration of the war.
Fitchlee continued as top gunner on B-17 bombing missions for the rest of the war. He flew on a total of 30 missions. A year after his return, On Dec. 7, 1946, Fitchlee married his high school sweetheart, Ruth Behm, in Lockport. They had three children: Leonard, Gary and Nancy. He became a tool and die apprentice at Harrison for four years and then continued in that job for another three years before moving into the engineering and design department. He retired from Harrison in 1982 after 36 years. Fitchlee was an avid bowler and belonged to three leagues.
Besides the piece of shrapnel taken from his back, Fitchlee also kept the small silk American flag from his escape kit and has since donated it to the 390th Memorial Museum in Tucson, Arizona. He has also been very active in the 390th Bomb Group reunions, which have taken place between 1979 and 2012.
This event is held and supported by the Niagara County Historical Society, Elks of Lockport, Moose Lock City Lodge 617, Roberts Roofing, Sons of the American Legion Post 362 E. Aurora, VFW Posts 2535 and 410, Tom Dublinski, Navy Marine Club Inc. and 390th Memorial Museum, Tucson.
The public is welcome to attend.