Thomas Fitzpatrick served in the United States Marine Corps in the Asian Theater during World War II. After his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, he joined the United States Army and served during the Korean War where he received the Silver Star after directing a successful rescue operation despite being severely wounded and suffering severe pain and loss of blood. Fitzpatrick passed away in 2009, but he will never be forgotten. However, it’s not his military service that keeps his memory alive.
Thomas Fitzpatrick, aka Tommy Fitz, has gone down in history as a barroom hero. While drinking at a Washington Heights bar in New York City in September 1956, Fitz bet another patron that he could travel from New Jersey to Upper Manhattan in 15 minutes. To accomplish such a feat, Fitz stole a single-engine plane from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey, took off without lights or radio contact, and landed on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street. At 3 AM.
The New York Times called it a “fine landing” and a “feat of aeronautics” but the authorities were not as impressed. He was originally arraigned on grand larceny charges, but those were dropped after the plane’s owner declined to sign a complaint. However, Fitz was still fined $100 for violating the city’s administrative code, which prohibits landing a plane on the street.
In those days, long before the internet, it could be hard for one to prove that they had pulled off such an unbelievable feat. Two years later, on October 4, 1948, Fitz found himself in a bar regaling a fellow patron with the story of the miraculous flight. However, the other patron simply didn’t believe the tale, so Fitz did the only logical thing: he stole another plane.
Just before 1 AM, Fitz again took a plane from Teterboro and this time landed on Amsterdam and 187th Street. Reports from witnesses stated that Fitz jumped out of the plane in a gray suit and fled on foot but later turned himself in. This time, he was sentenced to six months in jail for bringing a stolen item into the city. Judge John A. Mullen commented on the slap on the wrist after the initial offense, stating, “Had you been properly jolted then, it’s possible this would not have occurred a second time.”