Veteran finds what may be Korean War hero Litzenberg's sword at pawn shop
By RACHAEL PACELLA | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: December 31, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — An Anne Arundel County police corporal and prior service Marine says he has found what he believes to be the sword of decorated Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Homer L. Litzenberg Jr. at a pawn shop in Aberdeen.
What started as a search for a suitable cake-cutter for the annual Marine Corps birthday party held at McGarvey’s Saloon & Oyster Bar in Annapolis has turned into a quest to get the sword into the National Museum of the Marine Corps, or another place where the public can appreciate its value.
Every year Marines gather at McGarvey’s to celebrate the Marine Corps’ birthday on Nov. 10. But Chris Anderson, 39, of Arnold, said something was off about the celebration — the birthday cake wasn’t being cut with a Mameluke sword, the kind Marine Corps officers wear.
He set out to find a suitable sword with which to cut the cake; he planned to give it to the bar’s manager. While perusing online sites, he came across one being auctioned on eBay by an Aberdeen pawn shop with the name Homer L. Litzenberg Jr. inscribed on the blade.
He looked up Litzenberg and discovered an impressive military record. Litzenberg died in 1963. According to The Military Times, Litzenberg was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and the Legion of Merit for actions during the Korean War. He also received one Silver Star for actions during World War II.
“That it belonged to a Navy Cross recipient, that’s huge, for me anyway, because of what it represents,” Anderson said. “This guy helped lead a regiment of Marines back home.”
Anderson bid on the sword and won the online auction Dec. 18, purchasing the sword for $250. The blade is 31.5 inches long and the handle appears to be made of ivory, Anderson said.
He said he wanted to buy the sword as soon as he could to ensure it didn’t get into the hands of a private collector. Anderson said he can’t verify the authenticity of the sword, and he can’t say for certain it’s something Litzenberg wore during his lifetime — but he also doesn’t know why anyone would make a fake, as Litzenberg was important but not very famous.
He also said he wanted to make sure the sword ended up in Marine hands, though not necessarily his.
“Maybe it’s just the Marine in me. I can’t see this go in someone’s cabinet, or someone’s closet. This needs to be somewhere else,” he said. “And if no one else appreciates it, I appreciate it because of the story it told me about him and what he did.”
He drove up to Aberdeen to pick it up from Clark Loan and Jewelry on Dec. 20. Nick Uroda, a manager at the shop, said he couldn’t disclose who brought the sword in, but said because of their proximity to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, it’s not unusual for the shop to receive military-related items.
Anderson said he drove to the shop, rather than having the sword shipped, to ensure it wasn’t damaged in transit.
On Dec. 22, Anderson sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, describing the discovery and asking one of the nation’s top military officials to help him get the sword into the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Mattis, like Litzenberg, commanded the 7th Marine Regiment at one point during his career.
In his letter to Mattis, Anderson wrote that he owes his life to the Marine Corps.
“It has made me who I am and shaped the very life I lead today,” he wrote. “I loved and still love the Marines, the history, the tradition, the camaraderie, the brotherhood.”
Anderson served in the Marine Corps from 1998 to 2002 and was stationed at the Marine barracks in Annapolis back when Marines stood post at the Naval Academy, he said. He left the Marine Corps as a sergeant.
Before he joined, he worked for his stepfather in construction as a foreman. He said he asked himself if he wanted to be doing the same job he was then when he was 60, and the answer was no, so he spoke to a recruiter and was enlisted. It put him on the path to joining the Anne Arundel County Police Department — he’s now approaching 16 years with the force.
He also met his wife, Lisa, in Annapolis and, while you never know, that probably wouldn’t have happened if he weren’t stationed in Annapolis, he said. Anderson is originally from North Carolina.
And like Anderson, Litzenberg was enlisted. Anderson bought a 180-page book on Litzenberg, “Marine General from the Ranks: The Life of Lieutenant General Homer L. Litzenberg Jr.” written by Bryan Dickerson, and read it in a day. The book’s introduction states that “very, very, very few have risen to flag officer rank without having attended college or been awarded a college degree prior to being commissioned as an officer,” and that Litzenberg was one of those few.
The book’s introduction also states Litzenberg is best known for his leadership during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.
“In the annals of U.S. Marine Corps history, the 1st Marine Division’s breakout from the Chinese Communist trap around the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War stands out as one of the Corps’ great battlefield achievements,” Dickerson wrote in the book. “As commander of the 7th Marines, Colonel Litzenberg played a crucial role in that epic feat of arms.”
The Chosin campaign, fought in freezing temperatures, occurred at the end of Litzenberg’s “long, distinguished career that included combat service in Haiti, Nicaragua, North Africa and the Pacific, as well as in Korea,” the book states.
“I think his actions in Korea brought a lot of men home,” Anderson said. “Men who went on to father children who might’ve done super awesome great things because they made it back.”
The timing is also remarkable to Anderson, given today’s climate with North Korea, he said.
“The man that literally marched with a Marine division out of Korea, led them out, brought all their wounded, all their dead, all their vehicles, all their guns, brought everything out,” Anderson said. “That guy carried this sword, I think.”
Anderson said he plans to reach out to historians and others after the holidays about the find.
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