Whether or not most of us realize it, a most unusual man is among us. Until the late ’50s, he was one of the very few Americans of international road racing caliber. As you read this, John Fitch is 88 years old. His life is the stuff of legend.
Fitch burst onto the world scene in early 1951 at “The General Peron Grand Prix.” (The first Argentine Grand Prix, for sports cars). A number of leading European teams of the time were joined by a few Americans, north and south. John wanted to come, but he didn’t own a suitable car. So he borrowed a tired Cad-Allard from his friend, Tom Cole, and won the race over faster and better equipment. The best part of the story, however, is that he was kissed by the race queen, who also happened to be the uncrowned queen of the country, one Evita Peron.
Fitch was a hero long before the ’50s. A dedicated rag sailor, during the late ’30s, he acquired a 32-foot schooner. After WWII started in Europe, German submarines lurked near our shores searching for ships to torpedo. John joined a group of small boaters the Coast Guard organized to spot and report the locations of subs.
John joined the Army in 1940. His exploits and adventures as an Air Corps pilot are legendary in and of themselves. He was among the first group of Americans to arrive in England early in 1942 and flew bombers over Europe and then North Africa, where he flew more than 100 missions. In 1944, he switched to fighters and, back in Europe, shot down an ME 262. This German jet was much faster than John’s P-51 Mustang, so bagging it was a most unusual feat.
After flying more than 50 missions in the P-51, he was shot down over Germany in January 1945. He parachuted from his burning plane by stepping on the wing and jumping off. After three months in a POW camp, the American Army approached and the prison guards ran off. Since he had not been able to bathe in three months, John was eager to clean himself. While stark naked with water pouring over him, General Patton came into the shower room and liberated him personally. John was so surprised, he failed to salute.
After the war, Fitch wanted to continue flying, so he started a shuttle service in Florida with a small, twin-engine pontoon seaplane. A family who had a residential compound befriended him and he started to date the eldest daughter, Kathleen. His favorite person in the family, however, was Rose. Teddy was a little boy. Jack and Bobby were usually off somewhere. Fitch remembers father Joe flaunting his girlfriends without regard for Rose’s feelings.