The 35th Infantry Regiment Association salutes our fallen brother, PFC Wallace Fred Ritter, RA11189487, who died in the service of his country on November 28th, 1950 in North Korea. The cause of death was listed as Captured-Died POW. At the time of his death Wallace was 19 years of age. He was from Hillsboro County, New Hampshire. Wallace's Military Occupation Specialty was 4745-Light Weapons Infantryman.
The decorations earned by PFC Wallace Fred Ritter include: the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Korea Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Michelle MacKinnon wiped away a tear as she watched an elderly woman accept the Purple Heart for a teenage cousin who died 60 years ago in a Korean prison camp.
"I cry at every one of them," said MacKinnon, a private investigator who has tracked down relatives of nearly 60 POWs over the last four years. "I know more about these soldiers and their family than I do my own."
MacKinnon was in Norwell on Wednesday to watch as one of those soldiers, Wallace Ritter, was finally honored with a posthumous Purple Heart medal presented to his closest living relative, a cousin named Alice Ritter-Grey.
Norwell Veterans Agent Dick Caldwell organized the brief ceremony, which he said was the first of its kind under his watch.
"This is brand-spanking new to me," he said.
MacKinnon has spent the last three years working side-by-side with Allan Gavan, a World War II veteran from Moultonboro, N.H., in an effort to track down living relatives of every soldier from New Hampshire who would be eligible for the Purple Heart medal under a 2008 policy change.
Since that change, any American soldier who died in a prison camp after the U.S. entered World War I is eligible. Before the change, a soldier who died in captivity was not eligible unless it could be proved that he or she was wounded or killed by an enemy.
MacKinnon and Gavan have tracked down relatives for all but one of New Hampshire's eligible POWs, and MacKinnon said the case of Wallace Ritter was among the most difficult, largely because the teenager had lived his whole life in Massachusetts before crossing the border to New Hampshire to enlist.
She only began to track him down after finding his name on a memorial in his hometown of Billerica.
"Once I found that memorial, it all snowballed from there," she said.
According to MacKinnon"s research, Wallace Ritter was born in Weymouth in 1931 and grew up in Billerica, where he was listed as a ward of the state.
He enlisted with an infantry unit out of New Hampshire, and he was a corporal when he was captured in November 1950. He died the following January, when he was just 19.
After Ritter disappeared, his brother Frank enlisted in the Army in an effort to find him, MacKinnon said.
While in Korea, Frank Ritter was shot and forced to return to Massachusetts, where he was killed in a car accident a year later.
Alice Ritter-Grey said she remembers hearing about the older cousin from the North Shore who died while fighting in the Korean War, but never met him. She remembers meeting Frank Ritter once, but said she had never heard the story about his effort to find his lost brother.
"I just found that out right now," said Ritter-Grey, who grew up on Hingham's Ritter Road, which is named after her grandfather's farm.
Corporal Ritter was a member of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. He was taken Prisoner of War while fighting the enemy in North Korea on November 28, 1950 and died while a prisoner on January 18, 1951. His remains were not recovered. Corporal Ritter was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.