William J. “Bill” Litteral had several medals from his action with the Army during the Korean War, including two purple hearts, which are awarded to those who are wounded in combat.
Now, nearly 65 years later, he has another award from that war. it came in the mail last month – a plaque from the republic of South Korea. it was given in thanks for his service in helping in the defense of South Korea against invasion attempts by communist North Korea.
“That was a long time ago,” Litteral said during a recent interview at his apartment in Hillview Retirement Center. “I was surprised when I opened it. I had no idea it was coming. But I appreciate it. It’s something to keep.”
He was too young for the draft during World War II. Military service was the last thing on his mind when he left South Shore and went north in 1950 to find work.
He was working as a bellhop in an affluent hotel in Detroit when a letter came from Uncle Sam telling him that his service was needed in the U.S. Army.
“I hated to hear it because I was making good money. Most of the people I served were really generous with their tips – big tips,” he said.
Soon he was on a train headed for boot camp, and after that across the Pacific Ocean to Korea, a place he’d never heard of.
What had been a civil was escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces—supported by the Soviet Union and China—moved to the south to unite the country on June 25, 1950.
After the first two months of the conflict, South Korea was fast losing the battle. The United Nations came to the defense of South Korea. There were 21 countries involved, but it was the United States that contributed 88 percent of the UN’s military personnel.
An amphibious invasion in September 1950 on the North’s seacoast cut North Korea’s forces in half, with many of them being killed or captured.
After that, the counter-offensive drove North Korean forces all the way back to the border of China.
Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River and entered the war, pushing American and UN forces back to the south.
After Seoul, the capital of South Korea, changed hands four times, a counter-offensive drove North Korea back across the 38th parallel.
By the time an armistice was signed and fighting ended on July 27, 1953, American military personnel had suffered 33,686 men killed in battle.
The action that saw Litteral wounded twice came in fighting just north of the 38th parallel, referred today as the Demilitarized Zone.
The first Purple Heart he would not have taken had his officers not insisted.
“Someone yelled ‘incoming!’ and I ducked into my foxhole. I struck the end of a gun barrel with my mouth, knocking out my two front teeth.”
The second time he didn’t make it into a foxhole. Shrapnel from an exploding shell struck him in the neck and shoulder. He spent several months in a hospital before receiving his honorable discharge.
Litteral, 86, died July 20 in Phoenix Ariz., where he had gone to live with a niece just a couple of weeks earlier. His move came four days after he buried his wife, Lois, in a cemetery in South Shore.
There will be a memorial service from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at First Christian Church in South Shore.
Litteral loved hunting with his dogs for the ruffed grouse of northeastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio.
He was a champion horse shoe pitcher. His wife was a champion bowler.
With the help of area horse shoe pitchers, Litteral built a lighted indoor pitching arena in King’s Addition.
He had a roomful of trophies won in tournaments, some on the state level.