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Purple Heart recipient, 96, to be honored: 'I get around in pretty good shape'

Fewer World War II veterans are still alive, but Everett A. Fitchlee, a 96-year-old Town of Lockport man who was wounded during a bombing mission over Nazi Germany, still has a story to tell.

Fitchlee will be present from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the Lockport Elks Lodge, 6791 N. Canal Road, where he is an active member.

"They wanted to honor me for my service, the Elks and the Niagara (County) Historical Society and the Moose and the VFW. They're all putting on something at the Elks for the public to attend," Fitchlee said Thursday. "Anyone can go. I'll give a little talk. I'll have to have something to say."

Fitchlee, a top turret gunner in a B-17 bomber, was struck by anti-aircraft fire Oct. 16, 1944, during a raid on Mannheim, Germany. The plane returned safely to its base in England, and a surgeon removed a chunk of metal from Fitchlee's back and gave it to him.

"I still have it. What would I want to get rid of it for?" Fitchlee asked. "I'm not going to bring that down to the Elks. That stays right in the box with my Purple Heart."

He said in a 2014 interview with The Buffalo News that while he was hospitalized, the B-17 was shot down on another mission. Six men were killed and three others became prisoners of war.

"I'm lucky to be alive since I got wounded. I spent about 2½ months in the hospital in England," he recalled. "The surgeon gave me that piece of flak that stuck out of my back and said, 'You're a lucky boy.' "

Fitchlee returned to combat and flew a total of 30 bombing missions, but World War II is not his favorite topic.

"I don't like talking about the people getting killed in the war. Wars are hell," he said.

Nevertheless, Fitchlee has given about four speeches about his experiences.

"I went down to a church in Barker when they were going to honor war veterans. That was a couple years ago," Fitchlee said. "I talked at the Niagara Historical Society. We had a full house there. And I've talked at my church, also."

That's Trinity Lutheran Church in Lockport, where Fitchlee is an usher. He also works on the bingo games at the Elks Lodge two Sundays per month.

"I still drive around town. In fact, I did a little shoveling (Wednesday) in my driveway," Fitchlee said. "I get around in pretty good shape."

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