William E. Fitch

  • Lieutenant, USN
  • WW II


William (Bill) Elton Fitch was born in Somerville, Massachusetts on 23 February 1917. He was the oldest son of William A. and Grace Fitch. He was a 1935 graduate of Somerville High School where he was an outstanding athlete and President of his junior and senior classes. William entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1935 with the class of 1939. He was a member of Phi Sigma Fraternity, Scabbard & Blade Military Society, the football and baseball teams and participated in the Army ROTC program. William graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education in June 1939.

After graduation, William enlisted in the U.S. Navy Aviation Cadet Program. He attended air cadet training at Floyd Bennet Field, New York; aviation training at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida; advanced aviation training at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas and Advanced Carrier Landing Training Group, Norfolk, Virginia. He was commissioned an Ensign, U.S. Navy Reserve upon graduation.

Lieutenant Fitch was assigned to the US Navy Bombing Squadron 16 on board the U.S. Naval Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington (CVE-16). Following her shakedown cruise, the Lexington moved to the Pacific in February 1943 and participated in extensive combat throughout the Pacific Theater. The Lexington participated in a raid on the air bases on Tarawa in late September, followed by a Wake Island raid in October. From 19-24 November, she made searches and flew sorties in the Marshall Islands and covered the assault landing in the Gilberts.  The 16th Fighter Squadron downed 29 Japanese aircraft on November 23 and 24.

The USS Lexington (CV 16) was named after the USS Lexington (CV-2), which was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea. She was nicknamed “The Blue Ghost” and sailed to raid Kwajalein Atoll on 4 December. Her morning strike destroyed the SS Kembu Maru, damaged two Japanese cruisers and shot down thirty enemy aircraft. The aerial attack continued on to destroy enemy targets on Kwajalein Atoll. Sadly, Lieutenant Fitch’s plane was shot down on 4 December 1943 and sank in the Kwajalein Lagoon along with nine other US Navy planes. The Kwajalein MIA Project continues to search for the planes that have missing pilots associated with them.

Lieutenant William Elton Fitch, U.S. Navy, was awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart (Posthumously) for his bravery and leadership during the Battles of Mille and Kwajalein.


For meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight as Division Leader of Bombing Squadron SIXTEEN during operations against Mille and Kwajalein, Marshall Islands on November 19 and 20, 1943 and December 4, 1943. Leading his division through heavy anticraft fire in two diving bomb attacks on enemy ground installations at Mille, Lieutenant Fitch, scoring an accurate and well- timed hit, destroyed a large building and damaged another with a near miss. During the mission on Kwajalein while subject to intense enemy counter-attacks, he expertly bombed a hostile cargo vessel leaving it completely enveloped in flames. Lieutenant Fitch’s superb leadership and unfaltering courage in the face of imminent peril were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

The name of Lieutenant William Elton Fitch is on the Tablets of the Missing, Honolulu Memorial, Hawaii. Lieutenant Fitch’s courage and devotion to duty contributed to the success of our forces in defeating the Japanese and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He was a son of Rhode Island State College who answered the call during World War II and gave his life in service to our country, another member of the “Greatest Generation.”