- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DENVER (AP) - A Purple Heart unearthed in a Denver backyard will soon be back with the family of the man who earned it, and his stepdaughter said the story of its loss and return brings back memories of the only father she ever knew.

After trying unsuccessfully to find relatives, Purple Hearts Reunited held a ceremony Sunday at the Denver grave of Korean War veteran Richmond L. Litman. Leatra Plick told The Associated Press on Monday that a neighbor watching a news report about the ceremony called to alert her. Plick called the organization founded in 2012 to unite lost military medals with veterans or their families, and started looking through her late mother’s cedar chest for photographs and documents. She was able to provide Purple Hearts United with Litman’s discharge papers.

A decade ago, the dog belonging to Steve Jankousky and his partner, Tom Unterwagner, dug up the medal behind the house they bought in 1994. They were unable to locate Litman or his relatives. Years later, they contacted the group.

Plick said she called Litman “Daddy” and her two older brothers, Gregory Jones and David Jones, called him “Little Dad” - he was short but strongly built. Their mother divorced their biological father shortly before Plick, the youngest, was born and soon after that married Litman, her husband of 34 years.

“He raised us all,” Plick said.

Plick’s own daughter, Shonta Trotman, spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ home after her mother’s divorce.

“She’s very excited” about the Purple Heart’s return, Plick said. “He was her papa.”

Plick remembered her father as a hard-working, devoted family man and sharp dresser who held civil service jobs in Texas and Colorado after serving in Korea. He told his stepchildren war stories, but Plick said she was too young then to pay much attention.

Litman was born in San Angelo, Texas, in 1926 and was wounded in action in South Korea in 1950, earning his Purple Heart. He moved his family in the 1950s from Texas to Denver, where he died in 1990. He and his wife, Ida, who died in 1995, are buried at Denver’s Fort Logan National Cemetery.

After his wife died, Plick and her brothers, who all still live in Denver, sold the home in which they were raised, not far from the home where the medal was found. Plick said she had no idea how the medal ended up buried down the street. She always assumed one of her brothers had the Purple Heart, and they each likely assumed one of their siblings had it, she said.

Now, “I’ll probably keep it, since I’m the baby,” Plick said, adding it would have a place “somewhere safe in the house.”

Zachariah Fike, a Vermont National Guardsman who founded Purple Hearts Reunited, came to Denver for Sunday’s graveside ceremony and flew home with the medal early Monday before he could make arrangements to return it to Plick. He said he would be back in Denver next Sunday for a handover ceremony.


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