Joseph Cyril Fitt was born on March 22, 1922 in Draper, Utah to Cyril Felix and Olivia May Nielsen Fitt. Joseph was the oldest of 10 children, his siblings were Kenneth, Joseph, Marjorie, Virginia, Robert, Geraldine, Paul, Rodger and Julia. Joseph also had two cousins, Major MacBeth and Jay MacBeth, who lived with the family after the death of their mother Esther, Cyril’s sister, in 1936. Both men were in the Navy during World War 2 and both returned home safely.
Joseph attended Granite High School in Salt Lake City. Upon graduation, he took a job at American Smelting and Refining Company where he worked for 2 years before enlisting in the Army on March 16, 1942 at Fort Douglas in Utah.
Private (Pvt.) Fitt trained at Camp Roberts, CA and Fort Benning, GA. Joseph was one of the first men in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). On February 4, 1943 the 505th PIR was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and they arrived at Fort Bragg, NC on February 12. Nicknamed the Panthers, members of the 505th PIR were considered elite soldiers. Several books have been written about their combat missions.*
Pvt. Fitt left New York with the 505th on April 28, 1943 and headed to Casablanca where he trained for 6 months. Joseph and his regiment then traveled to Kaourian, Tunisia to train and prepare for their first combat jump.
On the night of July 9th, 1943, the 505th participated in the attack on Gela, Sicily. The paratroopers were able to prevent the German Panzer Division from blocking the beachhead and the Allied landings. With Sicily secure, Pvt. Fitt did his 2nd night-time jump in an attack on the town of Paestum, Italy on September 14, 1943.
After several months of fighting in Italy, the 505th traveled to Ireland in December 1943 and then on to England in early 1944 to prepare for D-Day. During this time, they received anti-tank training that would prove invaluable in the days following the Normandy invasion.
On June 6, 1944 at 3:00 am the 505th participated in the D Day invasion, marking Pvt. Fitt’s 3rd combat jump. The paratroopers jumped prior to the actual planned start of the invasion "H-Hour." The motto of the 505th became “H-minus,” because they were the first in to fight.
Nicholas C. Welsh, writing for The Army Historical Foundation, says, “In the days after 6 June, the 505th RCT (Regimental Combat Team) defended the town of Ste-Mère-Église against German armor and infantry assaults while near constant bombardment by German artillery and mortars. During this time, the regiment’s extensive anti-tank training (a focus during their time in Ireland and England), began to pay off. Despite assaults by German tanks and self-propelled guns, the paratroopers responded with bazookas, 57mm antitank guns, and British-made Gammon grenades, knocking out several vehicles on the causeway leading to the town.”
Pvt. Fitt was one of the soldiers who stopped a German tank during the historic clash on the La Fiere bridge on June 7, 1944. Joseph served with a man named Elmo Bell, who retired as a full Colonel and spoke extensively after the war about his experiences with the 505th. In the book Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry in World War II, author Phil Nordyke writes, “Bell unexpectedly sees one of the Company C troopers leave his position. ‘Pvt. Joseph C. Fitt ran onto the bridge and dropped a grenade in that lead tank, and that silenced the guns on that tank.’”
With the help of Pvt. Fitt, Ste-Mère-Église was the first town to be liberated in France. Tragically, a week after his heroic actions on the La Fiere bridge, Joseph Fitt was killed by a German sniper in Ste-Mère-Église.
On June 7, 2019, the town of Ste-Mère-Église honored the American soldiers who liberated the city 75 years earlier. Pvt. Fitt was remembered in a speech by a young girl from the local community. Members of the 82nd Airborne attended the event and sang hymns in remembrance of those who fought that day.
Joseph C. Fitt was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his courageous act. His citation reads, in part, “His gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.”
Pvt. Fitt was also posthumously awarded a Purple Heart. He is buried at Taylorsville Memorial Park Cemetery in Utah.
It is because of the actions of men like Joseph C. Fitt that the Allies won the war. We thank Pvt. Fitt for his service and his sacrifice.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smart phone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen's name and read his/her story.
*Some of the books written about the 505th include:
Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry in World War II, author Phil Nordyke. Nordyke is the official historian of the 505th.
Jump Commander: In Combat with the 505th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments, 82nd Airborne Division in World War II by Mark J. Alexander and John Sparry
Descending From The Clouds: A Memoir of Combat in the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division by Spencer Wurst and Gayle Wurst
“75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings.” Ouest France, 7 June 2019, https://c herbourg.maville.com/actu/actudet_-75e-anniversaire-du-debarquement.-hommage-aux-liberateurs-de-sainte-mere-eglise_fil-3741980_actu.Htm. Accessed 19 July 2020.
1910 Census U.S. Federal Census. Ancestry.com.
https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/4454821_00427. Accessed 20 July 2020.
1930 Census U.S. Federal Census. Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4547816_00524. Accessed 20 July 2020.
1940 Census U.S. Federal Census. Ancestry.com.
https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-04215-00779. Accessed 20 July 2020.
“History of the 505th PIR and 3rd Brigade.” http://www.505thpantherassociation.org/history.html. Accessed 20 July 2020.
Joe Fitt, Silver Star a La Fiere. French Normandy Forum. https://www.dday-overlord.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=7254. Accessed 17 July 2020.
Joseph Cyril Fitt memorial. Findagrave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/145133/joseph-cyril-fitt. Accessed 19 July 2020.
Photo of German tanks at Sainte-Mère-Église. http://www.normandyinsight.com/biog/. Accessed 19 July 2020.
Utah, Veterans with Federal Service Buried in Utah, 1847-1966. Ancestry.com.
Utah, Military Records, 1861-1970. Ancestry.com.
https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2228/images/31805_00025223-00629. Accessed 17 July 2020.
Welsh, Nicholas C. “The 505th Infantry Regiment.” National Museum of the United States Army. https://armyhistory.org/the-505. Accessed 19 July 2020.