Belleville 'Red Tail' pilot lost over Germany

(Jan. 18, 1945) -- Flight Officer Leonard R. Willette, 22, was declared killed in action this week. Willette had been listed as missing in action since Sept. 22. He is the son of Newark Police Lt. and Mrs. Lawrence Willette, of Stephens Street, Belleville.

The young man enlisted in the Army Air Corps while a student at New York University. He entered the service from New Jersey. He refused an appointment by the late Senator Barbour to West Point in order to get into active combat more quickly. Willette received his wings in February 1944, at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Ala.

He was a P-51 Mustang pilot based in Italy with the famed 99th Fighter Squadron, 322nd Fighter Group, under command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis.


Belleville: The War Between The States

Each year, the tradition in Belleville is to gather on July 4th morning and read the names of our Second River forefathers who fought in the American Revolution.

Nearly 70 Belleville veterans of that war are buried in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery. Their names are listed on plates. We read their names aloud in a solemn ceremony.

The men named on these plaques risked everything to provide freedom for those of us who stand here today. When the men of Belleville rose up against England, it was no sure thing that the colonies would prevail but more than likely that the revolutionaries and their leaders might hang.

Less than one hundred years later, our country was torn apart by the War Between the States. The story of the war is taught in eighth grade history classes in town. But little is known or taught about the men of Belleville who fought and the half-dozen who died in that war.