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    Local News
    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Lives of our Times: 100th birthday honor for John Richard Fells

    John Fells at his home in Norwich.
    John Fells during his military days.

    On Sept. 4, U.S. Air Force veteran John R. Fells of Norwich will reach the centenarian milestone – his 100th birthday.

    John was born on Labor Day in 1922. He attended Hobart Avenue School and graduated from St. Mary School as valedictorian and class president in 1936. He attended NFA, which afforded him cherished memories and he still wears his Class of 1940 class ring. John shared that he was the only person from his NFA Class of 1940 at the 75th Jubilee Reunion.

    John taught the buglers at NFA from his second year through his senior year and worked his way up to first trumpet. He also played in a few dance bands.

    After NFA he worked at Cranston Co.; then enlisted in the Army in August 1942, soon to be sent to Eglin Field, Florida, where he got his first trumpet berth. Six months later, he was shipped to Burma and then Chanute Field, Ill.

    It was in Champaigne that he bugled his first military funeral. He was sent to Newark, N.J., where he discharged on Jan. 28, 1946. He eventually joined the Merchant Marine Service, his first ship destined for Aruba and Saudi Arabia, and he also worked on the Great Lakes.

    In June 1950, he heard the Korean War had begun; and after a total of four years on the lakes, he left. On March 12, 1952, John enlisted in the Air Force and was flown to Korea. Korean winters were cold and brutal, and the summers were hot and humid. He put in a request for Japan and was assigned to Johnson Air Force Base.

    He was elected president of the orphanage committee and joined a military band. After being discharged at Parks A.F.B. he took a train to New York and enlisted again for Mitchell A.F.B. John eventually got orders to go to Italy, where he attended the final requiem Mass for the Pope at St. Peter’s, an experience he will long remember.

    Italy was where he met Marianna, his wife of more than 60 years.

    “I was hopelessly smitten,” he said.

    After courting her for two years, they were married; he extended his tour for a year to give him time to work on Marianna’s visa and came back to the states. After multiple back surgeries, it changed his physical profile, making him unfit for overseas duty. On Jan. 1, 1969, John retired and returned to Norwich.

    I had the honor of interviewing John at his home in Norwich along with his beautiful wife Marianna (Conzato). She shared with me a compilation about John’s life titled “The Story of Johnny Fells,” which stopped in 1990. Marianna and their daughter Cadie will eventually finish John’s story.

    Marianna shared information about the Aviano Reunion Association for retired people who were stationed in Aviano, Italy. Every year they met in different states or in Italy; they went back every three years; 70 to 80 people from all over the United States were involved.

    The year 2004 was memorable, as John was asked to bring his trumpet to Veterans Week in San Antonio, Texas; he played taps at the Alamo. John is a Lifetime Member of the Colchester Veterans Honor Guard (Antique Veterans), playing around the region for veterans’ funerals. He also has played locally in the Norwich Veterans Day Parade as well as the Red, White and Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Norwich. John stopped bugling at the age of 90.

    John earned Veteran of the Year twice, once in 1987 and again in 1998. In 1985, during the 100th anniversary of White Cross Council #13 Knights of Columbus, he was named Knight of the Year. He has been the chaplain for the local chapter of the DAV; Secretary for K of C Corp; past Faithful Navigator of the Fourth Degree K of C; member of the Catholic Charities Advisory Board; member of the Senior Citizen Job Bank.

    Bob Kvardedras, commander of the Colchester Veterans Honor Guard (nicknamed: Antique Veterans) stated that they work for the State of CT and receive their Mission (Tasking) from the State of CT National Guard.

    Thomas O’Meara is the Executive Officer and Coordinator for the Colchester Veterans Honor Guard. Both he and Bob are the two oldest serving members of the group.

    “It is always a pleasure to be around him, and he never seems to age,” O’Meara commented.

    John Richard Fells has served his country with dignity and he is very proud of his family which consists of his wife Marianna, son Anthony, daughters Maria and Cadie and seven grandchildren: Colleen Lavin, Jonathan Conover, Michela Lavin, Benjamin Conover, Shelby Fells, Julia Lavin and Matthew Fells.

    We wish John a wonderful 100th birthday; may God continue to bless you and your family.

    There will be a Mass at St. Mary’s Church 70 Central Ave., Norwich, on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 5:30 p.m.; with special intentions for John. Please feel free to join the family.

    Roberta J. Vincent lives in New London, where she is president of the St. Anthony Chapel Foundation. She is also a member of the Norwich Arts Center Board, NFA Alumni Board and Norwich Lions.

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