POW from Korean War enjoying his retirement
Sitting on the couch of his Van Voorhis living room, a wall filled with framed photographs of three generations of his family, Charles Loutitt recalls how close he came to being killed by his captors during the Korean War.
The 80-year-old Van Voorhis man's quiet life is far removed from the rebellious Airborne trooper who fought communism from a Chinese prison camp.
Loutitt was born in Frye Station and raised in the Stogeltown section of Monongahela. He attended the Monongahela schools, but dropped out of high school after he got into a dispute with the principal because he had been ruled medically ineligible for football because of a heart murmur.
A year after leaving school, Loutitt joined the Army, passing his physical.
After completing basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., Loutitt signed up for the Airborne and received his jump training at Fort Campbell, Ky.
In August 1950, Loutitt was in the third day of leave when he received a letter ordering him to report back to Fort Campbell.
“They had the troop train loaded with everything, including tanks,” Loutitt said.
Loutitt took the train in San Francisco and subsequently boarded a ship.
“I knew we were headed to Korea,” Loutitt said.
A day off the coast, the ship hit a typhoon, but ultimately landed in the southern tip of Japan. After a week in Japan, Loutitt was flown to Seoul, South Korea.
A medical aide, Loutitt treated wounded soldiers as they came off the front lines. He was a member of the 187th Regimental Combat Team of the 11th Airborne Division.
On May 25, 1951, Loutitt was driving a truck delivering troops back to the base when two small bridges were destroyed by the enemy and the detour was clogged with vehicles.
Chinese soldiers surrounded the Americans and Loutitt was among those captured.
“The interpreter told us, ‘You're going north,'” Loutitt recalled. “I thought they were going to kill us.”
From May until October, the Chinese kept Loutitt and his fellow GIs moving before settling in a prisoner-of-war camp. He would remain there for 28 months.
On Oct. 13, 1951, five days after Loutitt arrived, the camp was bombed.
“The conditions of the camp were terrible,” Loutitt said. “I spent a good time in solitary confinement in case I didn't believe in any of the stuff they were trying to jam down our throats.”
The Chinese tried to make the American GIs attend communist indoctrine courses, but Loutitt and a group of 22 fought them all the way.
Loutitt once tried to escape. Recaptured, he was strung up from a tree.
“We were considered reactionaries – the 22 of us,” Loutitt said. “We didn't go along with what they said. “We burned down a library filled with Communist books.
“I'm lucky to be here considering the stuff I did.”
One day, a guard told Loutitt through an interpreter “You're going home soon.”
Slowly, the American prisoners were moved toward the 38th parallel and allied lines.
Returning home, Loutitt received a letter telling him to report to Fort Meade. There, he received the Bronze Star for his heroic resistance to the Chinese while a prisoner of war.
After discharge, Loutitt worked in construction building homes and drove a school bus in Fallowfield Township.
He then worked as a coal miner for more than 20 years for Maple Creek Mine.
Now widowed, Loutitt met his wife of nearly 50 years, Antoinette, at a dairy bar near where Cox's market is now located. The couple had five children – Cheryl Ann Obosky of Bentleyville, Darla Harvey and Charles Loutitt Jr., both of Van Voorhis, Jeffrey Loutitt, who was killed in a vehicular accident in 1990, and Laurie Kriston of Belle Vernon.
In retirement, Loutitt enjoys fishing and hunting, although he admits to slowing down a bit.
“I can't do it like I use to,” Loutitt said. “I used to live in the woods.”
Loutitt still thinks about his days in the Army, including his long stay in a prisoner-of-war camp. Although he was captured in May 1950, his family didn't get confirmation of his whereabouts until Christmas Eve.
After his troop ship landed in San Francisco, Loutitt's mother and sister waited patiently until his name was called out. It was a sweet reunion for the Loutitt, who realized he could have vanquished in a Chinese prisoner-of-war camp.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.