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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

GUAM
Summer/Fall, 1944

The sound of gunfire filled the air as hidden Japanese soldiers continued to rain death on the Marines who struggled to reclaim the small island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.  From the first American landings in July, through the summer and fall leading up to Thanksgiving, some of the Marine Corps rifle companies suffered 50 to 75 percent casualty rates.

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Carl L. Sitter, a 22 year old officer from Pueblo, Colorado pushed his young Marines forward, encouraging them to meet the enemy and defeat them.   He shouted encouragement, pushed them from position to position, ducking only when needing immediate cover from some new threat.  A new burst of enemy gunfire drove him to the ground.  Pinned down for the moment, he would not allow his Marines to stay pinned down for any length of time.  That would be fatal for all of them.   Shouting orders, he rose from his position to attack the enemy.  As quickly as he had risen, he was driven back to the ground by a horrible blow to the chest.  In that mili-second between the moment when the fatal bullet arrives and the conscious mind records its last impulse, he knew he had been shot in the heart.  There was a moment when all was numb...then the young officer realized that he was still breathing...still conscious of the gunfire around him.  Instinctively he reached his hand to his chest, felt the ragged edges of his uniform and the warm flow of blood.  And cold, hard, shattered steel.  Too much steel for a single bullet.

Slowly Lieutenant Sitter's mind began to clear, and he came to an amazing realization.  The torn, cold steel he felt was the shattered remnants of the 45 caliber pistol holstered below his left shoulder.  It had taken the direct impact of the enemy round, and saved his life.   Surging to his feet with a yell, he began the attack anew.  This time the enemy rounds hit the soft flesh of his shoulder.  Though painful, the wounds were not fatal.  World War II Marine Corps Lieutenant Carl L. Sitter would live to receive his Purple Heart Medal, as well as the Silver Star that would also be awarded for his heroic leadership that day.  He would also live to face even greater tests of his courage and leadership in years...and wars... to come.

 

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Carl Sitter was 100% MARINE!
Carl Sitter was a MAN OF WAR!

 

 

Richmond, Virginia
Christmas, 1999

Sitting with quiet humility on a wooden pew in Watts Chapel at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education is a man of peace, a student of the Scriptures.  Next to his heart he holds a Bible, worn from hours of study.  Mid-term finals are finally done, and with a whispered prayer he says, "Lord, if I can make it through one more semester, I'll have it made."  For years now this student has struggled through daily classes, fought to maintain his grades, and cleaved to the dream of ministering peace to others.  In many respects he is not at all unlike the other seminary students, struggling with class work, meeting in study groups, worrying about his performance on the next test, and looking forward to graduation.

A closer look at the aspiring minister however, reflects many differences between the man and his fellow students.  The wrinkles in his face relect the character of a man who has been to Hell and back.  The hair is grayer, the posture a little more stooped, the demeanor more that of a kindly old grandfather than a giddy, young college student.   But one look in his eyes reveals the soul of the man, a man who deeply loves God, cares about others, and desires with all that is within him to serve others.  Thus one can finally conclude, this man really ISN'T any different than the idealistic young people with whom he attends class.

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Slowly one's eyes are drawn from the Scriptures over his heart, to the small pin on his lapel.   The blue, six-sided cloth pin bears the likeness of several small stars... and then recognition dawns.  This man of God wears our Nation's highest award for military valor...THE MEDAL OF HONOR.

 

Carl Sitter is a Man of God!
Carl Sitter is a Man of PEACE!!!

 

One is left then to ask, what could have effected such a change the this man's life...from man of war to man of peace, from leader of Marines to gentle "shepherd"?  Only when you came to know Carl Sitter did you begin to realize, there was no change.  In both roles, he was the same great man, doing what the moment and situation demanded.  And it was his strength of character that motivated him in both.  That character came from two great lessons, the need for strength from Someone greater than himself that he learned from his grandfather, and the importance of protecting the heart that he learned at Guam.

 

 

 

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. 

sitter_korea.jpg (22814 bytes)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)

"War doesn't accomplish what it sets out to do.  What it does is destroy people on both sides, and it takes many years to get back what we destroyed.   We don't really win anything by war."

"I'm a realist.  I have a view of war as a last resort."

"I guess that's why I'm going back to school, to learn more about the Lord and to use that knowledge to help all people.  God says we're to love everybody."

Colonel Carl L. Sitter, USMC (Ret)

 

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

sitter.jpg (11332 bytes)Medal of Honor, Korea

Born:  December 2, 1922
           Syracuse, MO

Died:  April 4, 2000

Hometown:  Pueblo, CO

Click On Thumbnails for Large Image

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Sculptor David Dirrim works on the clay mold for Carl Sitter's Statue to be unveiled here in September.

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Carl Sitter and the clay model which, when bronzed, will remind future generations of his great heart.

 

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