WWII veteran celebrates 95th birthday amidst COVID-19

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On his 95th birthday, Lee Fritts welcomed a parade all about him at Fairview United Methodist Church.

Neighbors decorated their cars and motorcycles for the World War II veteran’s celebration in Maryville on Thursday, April 9, while applauding him from a distance. Then more surprises rolled his way.

“A drive-by birthday celebration for our good friend Lee. You only turn 95 once,” Nathan Weinbaum, Veterans Service Officer of Blount County, said.

First came the ambulance, then a large line of cars and motorcycles followed continuously for several minutes.

Dozens participated in the patriotic celebration with horns and speakers blaring. It was a birthday gift Lee never expected.

 “I appreciate what people do; I appreciate the fact that they appreciate my service. I didn’t do anything for glory,” the Marine said.

Fritts sat the church’s entrance, at a distance from neighbors and first responders, who cheered and whistled his way.

“All my friends are here. I miss seeing them at church which we haven’t been able to have in three Sundays. I miss our chats,” Lee said.

Fritts was born and raised in Knoxville. He enlisted in the USMC in April 1942 and served in communications as a field wire chief. He served with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.

Lee was sent overseas during WWII and participated in action at Rio-Namur and Kwajalein of the Marshall Islands and in Saipan of the Northern Mariana Islands. Lee was seriously wounded in action just days after landing in Saipan.

Lee said he spent 9 months in a hospital after being wounded in action. Lee is a Purple Heart recipient and he received his honorable discharge in October 1945.

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