Colonel John R. Fitzpatrick, Jr. (U.S. Army, retired), credited with being the U.S. service member to fight the longest in the Korean War, died of renal failure, peacefully at home in Fairfax, Virginia on March 7, 2017. Born at home in Washington, DC, in 1923, he was the eldest of six surviving children of John R. and Elizabeth Kelly Fitzpatrick of Washington, DC and later Frederick, MD. A graduate of The Citadel, Fitzpatrick distinguished himself throughout three decades of service in the U.S. Army, serving as an infantryman in a rare trifecta: In World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His service in World War II included the battle for Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault and bloodiest battle of the War in the Pacific, followed by his participation in the liberation of the Philippines and the occupation of Japan. In Korea, Fitzpatrick served for nearly the entire U.S. combat phase of the war, from 1950 to 1953. Fitzpatrick went ashore in Korea in September 1950 as part of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division in the surprise U.S. amphibious landing behind enemy lines at Inchon Harbor. He subsequently led his small unit in combat and intelligence operations, crisscrossing the country for most of the war. An April 1953 New York Times profile of Fitzpatrick’s exploits noted that he amassed approximately 129 rotation points, far more than the next closest person, and far beyond the 40 points which allowed one to rotate home. His extraordinary length of combat service was discovered as the electronic machine tallying his earned rotation points on paper punch cards was only set to record two-digits – no one had ever considered the possibility of one soldier accumulating even 100 rotation points. According to The New York Times, Fitzpatrick landed with the initial assault forces at Inchon in 1950 and, “Since then he has chased and been chased up and then down the Korean peninsula as a member of the front-line Thirty-first Infantry Regiment, he has been decorated twice with the Bronze Star (which he tried to turn down) and had become as familiar with the Korean countryside as a Brooklynite is with the grandstand at Ebbet’s Field.” The article also quoted one of his friends at the time commenting on his extended time in combat, “Fitz just has a high resistance to harassment.” Eventually Fitzpatrick was ordered by the Pentagon to return home. Even then, the article notes, he missed that deadline by more than a month. In Vietnam, Fitzpatrick served throughout 1964 as an advisor, formally attached to the U.S. Military Assistance Advisor Group, while serving as an embed living and operating with a South Vietnamese provincial defense force unit in the countryside. Peacetime assignments included Germany, Paris, and Italy, alongside numerous stateside posts. A Ranger through and through, Fitzpatrick garnered both Glider and Parachutist badges and served in a leadership position helping run Camp Rudder, the third and final phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School headquartered at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Among his many military commendations are the Legion of Merit (for gallantry in combat) with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star (for heroism in combat) with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, two Combat Infantryman Badges, and multiple Presidential Unit citations. Soft-spoken in his post-military life, yet proud of his Army affiliation, Fitzpatrick rarely discussed his service to the nation overall, much less his time in combat. In typical selfless fashion, he eschewed suggestions he request the Purple Heart for various injuries, explaining years later his belief that he had just been lucky while others suffered far worse. After retiring from the Army in 1972, Fitzpatrick became a full-time law school student at age 50. After graduating from Catholic University Law School he practiced business and real estate law in Northern Virginia. Even after formal retirement from law in the late 1980s, Fitzpatrick continued to offer pro bono immigration legal services for several years, advocating on behalf of individual refugees who came to the U.S. fleeing war and violence in Central America. A modern foreign languages major at The Citadel, Fitzpatrick was a member of the Citadel’s legendary Class of 1944, “The Class That Never Was,” as the entire class was drafted in its junior year to serve in World War II. He subsequently returned to the Citadel and finished in 1947. Fitzpatrick studied and spoke French, German, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean at different points. In his spare time, he was active in the Catholic Church and enjoyed photography and breeding and raising dogs, in particular, German Shepherd show dogs. Fitzpatrick is survived by his wife, Ruth McDonough Fitzpatrick, of Fairfax, Virginia, three children (Kelly, Mike and John), six grandchildren and his brother Jake, sister Susan and extended family. Memorial services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, where he also will be interred. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made in his honor to the Walter Reed Society in Bethesda, MD.

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Posted on: 2017-03-15

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