July 4, 1918 – Sept. 15, 2015
Robert J. Seitz, a World War II flight engineer who flew dangerous missions high above the Himalayas mountain range, died Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 97.
An energetic man who enjoyed fishing, gardening and woodworking at his Amherst home, the real love of his life was his wife of 67 years, the former Dolores Stoessel.
“My father bought her a topaz ring just last week, for her birthday,” said Mr. Seitz’s son, Robert Jr.
A Buffalo native who graduated from Bennett High School, Mr. Seitz was featured in a Buffalo News veteran-of-the-week story in January 2011. He told The News how he went to a North Buffalo military draft office in 1942 because he was eager to join the war effort.
“I went down to the draft board a couple months after my younger brother Jack had enlisted in the Army. I told them I was ready to go, and a couple weeks later they sent me a draft notice,” Seitz recalled in the interview.
He wound up in the Army Air Forces, reaching the rank of staff sergeant. After training as a flight engineer, he served on a crew that delivered new B-24, B-25 and B-26 bombers to Scotland, Italy, northern Africa and India. The planes were then turned over to bombing squadrons. He later served as the flight engineer on B-24s converted into C-109 Tankers. They hauled thousands of gallons of aviation fuel from India to China, flying above some of the world’s highest mountain peaks in the Himalayas. Unpredictable weather conditions and Japanese fighter planes made the trips very hazardous.
After the war, he went to work at Auto Wheel Coaster, a North Tonawanda company owned by his family. The company made snow sleds, skateboards and wagons, including the wagons used by delivery workers from The News and many other newspapers. Mr. Seitz left the company in the late 1960s and later worked for several other companies, including a customs brokerage at the Peace Bridge. He retired in 1983 after turning 65, and in recent years enjoyed spending time with his four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
His father was a determined and hard-working man, Robert Seitz Jr. said.
“At one point when he was a young man, someone told him he didn’t know one end of a hammer from the other,” Seitz Jr. said. His father took that as a challenge and “learned and worked hard to become an expert carpenter and woodworker, who made all kinds of furniture.”
He died in the Elderwood Rehabilitation Center, Amherst, following a brief illness.
Aside from his wife and son, Mr. Seitz is survived by two daughters, Suzanne Seitz and Marilyn Seitz-Pickett.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday in Christ the King Catholic Church, 30 Lamarck Drive, Snyder.
– Dan Herbeck