Carl Leonard Sitter was born in Syracuse, Missouri in 1922. In his early years the family moved to Pueblo, Colorado to follow work. Carl's father was a steelworker, and found steady employment in Pueblo's steel mill. Carl grew up in the city that would one day be named the "Home Of Heroes" by the United States Congress, never suspecting that one day he would be part of the reason for that title. He was typical as a lad, an only child who learned the value of hard work and a good education. In his youth he delivered newspapers for the Pueblo Star Journal (now the Pueblo Chieftain). In his high school years he studied hard, graduating from Pueblo's Central High School in 1940. (Four years earlier Bill Crawford, who would receive the Medal of Honor during World War II had graduated from the same school.)
As a teen, Carl Sitter was tough...not mean...just a kid who developed a character as strong and hard as the steel his father smelted every day. By his own admission, he didn't think much about God, certainly not becoming a minister. In fact, it was the Marine Corps that challenged and beckoned the new graduate like a seductress. "It was," he said, "the first of my THREE careers." It was that career that took him to the "brink of Hell" and taught him the importance of God. Carl's grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, and Carl had grown up in church...only to drift away for a time.
As a young officer and leader of Marines in combat, the lessons of those early days in Church and the words of his grandfather began to take on a new importance. In the Pacific, Lieutenant Sitter found himself leading other young men into battle, their lives under his command. "That's when I started getting close to God," he recently said in an interview for his hometown newspaper. It was also when he learned the importance of protecting the heart, for it was the pistol covering his heart that saved his life at Guam. His faith...and his 45...enabled him to return home to build a life with his wife in Pueblo.
Six years later, Captain Carl Sitter returned to "Hell", only this time "hell froze over." On the frigid road to the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, Captain Sitter faced the greatest challenges of his life to date. During his most trying hours, Carl Sitter remembered the importance of his personal faith. He also remembered the importance of protecting the heart. Throughout his entire tour of duty in Korea, Captain Carl Sitter always wore a 45 caliber pistol holstered over his left shoulder. It was no "John Wayne" gesture, it was the result of a lesson learned earlier at Guam when such a pistol had saved his life.
The battle at the Chosin Reservoir of North Korea in the days following Thanksgiving Day, 1950 was one of the most bitter and difficult trials in American history. Captain Sitter and his fellow Marines faced the coldest winter in a century, surrounded by a well supplied Chinese Communist force that outnumbered them more than 10 to 1. Through it all, Captain Sitter held his force of young Marines together and taught them to fight, and survive, with pride. During two of their darkest days, one young Marine observed the helplessness of the company's situation and ask, "What are we going to do?"
"What are you gonna do?" Captain Sitter growled. "You're gonna fight, damn it! You gotta fight or we aren't getting out of here. It get that simple."
Stephen Olmstead who would eventually rise to the rank of Lieutenant General, was a young private under Captain Sitter's command. "Carl Sitter was just one hell of an inspiration to us at a time when we were really in big trouble." he said during a recent interview. "His skills, his leadership and his inspiration are the reasons that a lot of us are still alive today." Two days of intense fighting on East Hill outside of Hagru-ri are cited in the citation for Carl Sitter's Medal of Honor. Those two days reflected only a portion of the week of hell Captain Sitter and his company survived. And when the job was done, Captain Sitter, wounded repeatedly, led his battered company back out of the Chosin Reservoir. In all, he would wear four Purple Hearts, as well as the ever-present pistol to protect his own heart.
More than thirty years in the Corps, then a "second career" in the Virginia Department of Social Services should have been enough to convince any man that he had done his "fair share" of duty for God, Country and fellow man. Carl Sitter retired in 1985 at the age of 63, but Carl Sitter was simply retiring from his second career...not from his life of service. Never forgotten were the lessons he had learned as a boy from his minister grandfather, or the importance he placed upon protecting the heart. Carl Sitter chose to replace the worn leather holster of a 45 caliber pistol, with a leather-bound copy of God's Word.
After years of lay-ministry in his home church at Shady Grove United Methodist Church, Carl Sitter determined to return to college. And so he did, in 1998 at the age of 75. From time to time Carl would call, and inevitably the subject would turn to school and studies, I having returned to College late in life myself. We would share each other's concerns for the upcoming tests, talk about how hard it was to keep up with the "younger kids", and share our hopes and dreams for the future. At times I had to laugh at our conversations. We actually SOUNDED like a couple young kids. By January, 2000 we would both share our sighs of relief that we almost had it made. Carl sent me a wonderful, two-page article the Richmond Times-Dispatch had done about him graduating from college at age 77.
In March, Carl's former classmate at Central High School and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Bill Crawford passed away. Carl flew home from Richmond for the funeral. Afterwards we visited, again talking about school...and finally...getting serious about graduation. I would graduate on April 28th at age 50, Carl on May 28th at age 77. I had spent my early youth in ministry, Carl now taking that same dream into his own future. Before he returned home, he stopped by to see the large 8-foot statue slated for dedication here on September 23, 2000. A humble man, he almost seemed embarassed. But as he looked up at the tall image of a young Marine officer, a 45-caliber pistol holstered over the heart, you could sense his pride in both service to Country as well as to God.
Carl Sitter was a man of War - Carl Sitter was a man of God.
CARL SITTER WAS A TRUE HERO.
(Photo by Nick Del Calzo)
There is something quite humbling in sharing such special moments with a man the stature of Carl Sitter, but Carl Sitter was that way with everyone he met. Like so many of those great men who wear the Medal of Honor, he was a man who never took himself or his "hero" status too seriously, but was always concerned with the needs of others. Never pretentious, his pastor the Reverand Burt Brooks recounts how Carl Sitter showed up rather sheepishly for Church one Sunday to ask if it were possible for the pastor to arrange a substitute teacher for his Tuesday night Bible Class. The White House had invited him to dinner. "He said it in such a humble way, not presumptuous way," says his pastor. "I told him I thought it would be alright." Carl Sitter was never one to miss any kind of personal commitment, but with that permission Carl Sitter missed class to spend time with the President.
On April 4th someone even more important than the President decided it was time to invite Carl to dinner. It meant that Carl Sitter would miss the graduation he had so looked forward to, but whenever anyone needed Carl's time, he always did his best to give it. And so, with his final farewell to we who remain to remember the greatness of the heart of a hero, Carl went to be with the Lord he loved and served. For us who loved him it was a difficult turn of events to accept, and at first it left me with a hollow feeling about my own graduation. For so long I had kidded Carl about my graduating before him, but I never wanted it to be this way. And then, as the days passed and I realized just how much Carl Sitter had implanted his own heart in my own, I came to the awareness that we will "graduate together"...for wherever I go in my own life...I will always carry with me the part of Carl Sitter that he was gracious enough to share with me.
SEMPER FI, my friend. Someday we'll get together and talk over old times again. Until then, I'll remember everything you taught me.
Col. Carl L. Sitter, USMC
Medal of Honor, Korea
Born: December 2, 1922
Died: April 4, 2000
Hometown: Pueblo, CO
© 1999-2013 by HomeOfHeroes.com
6338 Wingate Street, #203 - Alexandria, VA 22312
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Unless otherwise noted, all materials by C. Douglas Sterner
HomeOfHeroes.com now has more than 25,000 pages of US History for you to view.