World War II Army pilot memorialized 76 years after being killed in action. Seventy-six years after 1st Lt. Robert M. Leety was killed in action fighting during World War II, his family dedicated a stone in his honor at Mt. Royal Cemetery in Shaler on Saturday.
Four generations of his relatives gathered for a memorial service at the cemetery, where an honor guard offered a gun salute, played taps and presented a neatly folded flag to his niece, Sally Leety Stevens.
His family recalled his service as they dedicated a new stone that sits on the site of his sister Marie’s grave plot.
Leety, who was born and raised in Glenshaw and graduated from Shaler High School in 1942, enlisted in the United States Army Air Force in 1943. After about a year of training to become a pilot, he was shipped oversees, first in England, then in France, according to Stevens. She researched her family history and read letters the family preserved from Leety’s deployment.
Leety served as a fighter pilot, flying P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts.
The day after Christmas in 1944, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.
He racked up 175 combat hours in more than 75 missions, including during the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
Because he had flown so many combat missions, he was given the opportunity to return home to assume a military role in the United States.
But he chose to continue flying.
“He knew his odds of survival were not great, but he wanted to finish what he started when he first enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces back in March of 1943,” said Karen Nonnemacher Mills, one of his nieces. “He wanted to help the Allies defeat the Axis powers and create a peaceful post-war world.”
He wouldn’t live to see that.
On March 15, 1945, as he returned from a mission, he was shot down in France, near the German border.