Henry J. Kielich, who flew 70 combat missions over Europe during World War II and had a slew of medals to show for it, died Tuesday in Greenfield Health and Rehabilitation Center, Lancaster. He was 87.
Upset by Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the Buffalo native enlisted in the Army Air Forces the following June. As a radio gunner on a B-25 in the 448th Bomb Squadron, he fought in the skies over France, Italy, Sicily and North Africa.
The squadron was awarded several presidential citations for its efforts and Mr. Kielich received the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, six oak leaf clusters, several service medals and many other citations.
One medal he deserved, said a sister, Peggy Chapin of Elma, but never received was the Purple Heart. Mr. Kielich was struck in the leg by shrapnel that penetrated the fuselage during a bombing run. But the captain, who would have started the paperwork for Mr. Kielich's medal, was killed in the anti-aircraft assault. The badly damaged craft was landed by the co-pilot.
Her brother never made much of his heroism, Chapin said. On the contrary, "he was so distressed after the war he threw out all his uniforms and wouldn't talk about it. But his family knows what he did, and that's what counts."
After the war, Mr. Kielich worked at U.S. Customs, starting as a mail inspector and advancing to warehouse officer. He received a 25-year service award in 1977. He lived in Kenmore before moving to the Greenfield center four years ago.
His wife, the former Frances Nigro, died in 2002.
Surviving besides his sister are two other sisters, Elizabeth "Betty" Keil and Patricia Dinkins; and three brothers, Edward, Eugene and Paul.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Monday in St. Andrew Catholic Church, 1525 Sheridan Drive, Kenmore. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Town of Tonawanda.