James Fitter

Obituary of James Philip Fitter

James Philip Fitter

June 17, 1945 – May 13, 2021



Lt. Col. James P. Fitter, U.S. Army (Retired) passed away peacefully on May 13, 2021.  He was born June 17, 1945 in Kirbyville, Texas to Philip A. Fitter (USAF) and Kathleen McKinnon Fitter. He traveled widely as an Air Force brat, living in Alaska, England and France, before graduating from high school in Westford, Massachusetts in 1963. He attended Oklahoma State University as an Army ROTC student, and entered the Army as an infantry officer upon graduation.


After college, James attended Airborne School at Fort Campbell, Ky. and graduated from Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. He served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, leading Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol teams. Following the war, he was an instructor at the Ranger School in Eglin AFB, Fla., once entertaining his students with an unintentional demonstration of the wrong way to pick up a venomous coral snake. During that same incident, he entertained doctors with the discovery that he was allergic to snake antivenom.


James enjoyed a distinguished Army career. He completed the Advanced Infantry Course in the top ten of his class at Fort Benning. He commanded C Company, 2/7 CAV; Headquarters Company, 1st Cavalry Division; and A Company, 75th  Rangers at Fort Hood, Texas. James returned to Oklahoma State University to teach ROTC, where the highlight for his students was learning to rappel off the roof of Thatcher Hall. He graduated near the top of his class from the  Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. and served as Director of Training for the 193rd Infantry Brigade at Fort Clayton, Panama. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Army Operations Center at the Pentagon and focused on Latin America and the Caribbean. In his final duty station, he served as chief of staff for Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.


James received numerous decorations during his career, including the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Air Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Senior Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Legion Of Merit.


Not many Army Rangers are also entomologists, but James was fascinated with bugs from an early age, as evidenced by his childhood hobby of shooting bees with his BB gun. His siblings say you could always tell when he missed one, because the gun would go flying in one direction while James ran off in the other. He parlayed this interest into Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in entomology with a specialty in butterflies and moths. He frequently took bug-catching expeditions and amassed a beautiful collection of specimens he stored in a hand-built display cabinet.


A brain injury sustained at age 43 cut short his military career and his outdoor wanderings, but he maintained his sense of humor and his keen interest in science, nature, and history. He read countless books. He enjoyed being a father and grandfather. His pride over his children’s and grandsons’ accomplishments was matched only by his glee over their shenanigans. He always particularly enjoyed shenanigans and it was easy to make him laugh.


He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Virginia Fitter, of Fairfax, Va.; his son John Fitter, of Bethesda, Md.; his daughter Susan Harris, son-in-law Trey Harris, and grandsons Hunter and Barrett Harris, of Alexandria, Va.; his sister Mary Cox, of Texas; and his brother John Fitter, of New Mexico.


A private funeral service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations to the Army Emergency Relief fund, which supports Army families in need. See https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/donate/

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