The 'Kitten Marine' of the Korean War passed away at age 90
Frank Praytor, the U.S. Marine photographed nursing a kitten during the Korean War, recently passed away at the age of 90.
In the heat of the Korean War, Sgt. Frank Praytor was a combat correspondent in the 1st Marine Division. He had previously got into journalism in 1947 with the Birmingham News and, eventually, the Alabama bureau of the International News Service. In 1950, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and soon found himself in Korea.
He was a well-respected and highly successful journalist for Stars and Stripes. His many accomplishments include reporting firsthand accounts of PoW exchanges, the truce-signing at Panmunjom — which brought the ceasefire on the Korean War, and photographing a Navy corpsman treating a wounded Marine on the battlefield — which won an award from Photography Magazine.
All of this pales in comparison to the stardom he received when he was photographed by a fellow combat cameraman, Staff Sgt. Martin Riley, tenderly caring for a kitten in the middle of a battlefield. Praytor adopted two baby kittens after their mother was killed. The kitten in the photograph was named Miss Hap because, “she was born at the wrong time and wrong place.” He nursed them both back to full health, feeding them meat from his rations, and they served as the unofficial mascots of the Marine press office in Korea.
Riley sent the photo to the Associated Press as a sign of the “goodwill” the Marine Corps represents. Time passed and he snapped his previously mentioned award-winning photo. Soon after, he was brought on court-martial charges for releasing a war photo without the consent of superior officers. When he was called into the commander’s office, he had accepted his fate — then the commander ripped up the condemning papers.
The photograph of him and Miss Hap was picked up by over 1,700 newspapers across the United States. He had become a celebrity back home. A handsome Marine caring for a two-week-old kitten brought favorable eyes upon the Marine Corps from all across the United States. Hundreds of letters were sent, addressed to “Kitten Marine, Korea.” “I got letters from girls all over the country who wanted to marry me,” Praytor told the U.S. Naval Institute in a 2009 interview.
He was reassigned to Tokyo and had to leave Miss Hap with a fellow Marine, Cpl. Conrad Fisher. During his visit to report on the truce at Panmunjom, he visited Fisher, who was still taking care of Miss Hap. Fisher was happy to bring her back home stateside. Praytor would continue his life as a freelance journalist well into his 80s.