Katherine Riposta tells husband, Frank’s, Korean War story: He shot at enemy & saved orphans

Pfc. Frank Riposta of Deep Creek, a Punta Gorda, Fla. subdivision, was a loader in a 105mm Howitzer artillery unit during the Korean War in ’52 and ’53. When he wasn’t firing his 105 at advancing North Korean soldiers he was working as a chaplain’s assistant talking to American soldiers about to go into the front lines and feeding, clothing and housing desperate South Korean orphans.

When I arrived at his Bahama-pink, two-story apartment I found Frank in a pail-blue porcelain urn in a place of honor on the piano in the living room. He had been dead since February.

However, Katherine, this wife of 64 1/2-years was ready and willing to tell his story. She also supplied me with a variety of pictures of her late husband when he was protecting all of us in Korea more than half a century ago.

Here is her rendition of Frank’s war story:

After graduating from Kearny High School in Kearny, N.J. in 1948, two years later he was drafted into the Army and was sent Fort Chaffee, Ark. for basic. About the same time Katherine was having Virginia, their first child, back in New Jersey.

“After boot camp Frank was allowed to come back to New York until after Virginia was born. He spent those months guarding the Port of New York as part of a coastal artillery battery,” Katherine recalled. “I had some medical problems and my doctor wrote a letter to his superior and got him a 90 day deferment until the baby was born.

“He went to Korea in Sept. 1952. It took him three months to get there. They went by way of Fort Chaffee, Ark., to New York City. From there he took a troop transport to Puerto Rico to pick up troops and back across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal into the Pacific and on to Hawaii. From there they continued to Japan and finally to Korea.

“All the while he was sleeping on the top bunk next to asbestos-covered pipes on the ship. When he died 10 months ago his death certificate read, ‘Cause of Death: Asbestos Poisoning. ‘ “Frank developed lung cancer, but he never smoked a day in his life.

“He received no VA benefits for asbestos poisoning,” his daughter said. “He couldn’t prove how he came in contact with asbestos and therefore could get no benefits.”

Frank and his unit moved up near the front lines along the 38th Parallel separating North and South Korea. He was a loader in a 105 unit.

Frank poses with a couple of South Korean orphans he helped when his unit wasn’t firing its Howitzer at the enemy. Photo provided

Frank poses with a couple of South Korean orphans he helped when his unit wasn’t firing its Howitzer at the enemy. Photo provided

“He was a devout Protestant boy who prayed every day and night,” his wife recalled. “The chaplain heard about him when he started praying for other soldiers. After he was there a while he got a secondary job as a chaplain’s assistant. Frank was with those young soldiers when they sent them to the front an put them in a foxhole.

“He also dealt with a lot of Korean orphans who were hanging round the camp. These little Korean kids had nothing. He spent a lot of time helping them,” she said. “They liked him and he liked them.”

Frank’s younger brother, Salvatore, was over there, too. He drove a Jeep for Gen. Mathew Ridgeway, the commander who replace Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur who President Harry Truman fired for almost starting World War III by invading North Korea at the Chosin Reservoir.

“Frank and Sal were the two babies in the family. They had four older brothers who all served in World War II. All six returned from two wars almost unscathed. Only one boy was wounded. He sustained shrapnel fire in his leg.”

Katherine Riposta tells husband’s war story during a DVD filming in her Deep Creek apartment. Frank is in the blue urn in the background on the piano to the left of her. Sun photo by Don Moore

Katherine Riposta tells husband’s war story during a DVD filming in her Deep Creek apartment. Frank is in the blue urn in the background on the piano to the left of her. Sun photo by Don Moore

After returning home from the war on Aug. 20, 1953 he took the G.I. Bill and attended Newark College of Engineering. After graduation he worked as a draftsman most of his adult life. He worked for Singer Engineering in Newark who produced some of the equipment that helped put our first Mercury Astronauts into space.

Frank and Katherine retired to the Port Charlotte area in 1994. They have two children: Virginia and Mark. Andrew, a second son, died in a house fire in New Jersey when he was 7 1/2.

PUNTA GORDA, FL AND BELFAST

Frank Riposta served a 105mm Howitzer unit along the 38th Parallel in Korea. When he wasn't killing the enemy he served as a chaplain's assistant to make the lives of orphaned South Korean kids better. Photo providedFrank Joseph Riposta, 85 of Punta Gorda, Florida, passed away February 28, 2016 in Belfast, Maine. He was born in Kearny, New Jersey on March 13, 1930.

Frank grew up in Kearny, graduating from Kearny High School in 1948. He attended Stevens Tech in Newark.

On July 21, 1951 he married Katherine Bishop, of Millinocket, Maine. Frank was drafted into the U.S. Army on the day of his wedding rehearsal and served in Korea. He was discharged in 1953 and went to work for engineering companies in design/drafting.

He and Katherine had a daughter and two sons; they lived in Union, NJ. After a tragic fire took the life of their youngest son, Andrew, they moved to Morris County with their daughter Virginia and son Mark.

Raising their family in Chatham Township, they were active in Long Hill Chapel where Frank served as Sunday School Superintendent. Frank took great pleasure in having his children memorize Bible verses to guide their life. He loved church worship, Bible study and service to others.

Upon retirement, from work in New Jersey, Frank and Katherine tried life in Maine for a few years to be near their son and his family, but winters convinced them to retire to Florida. Since 1994, their home was in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Active in retirement, Frank enjoyed biking, walking, reading, did magic for senior citizens and youth groups, provided hospitality to foreign teachers and students, gave 1500 hours of service as a volunteer at Bayfront Hospital, assisted chaplains in visiting local prisons, and with Katherine, was an active member in Grace Presbyterian church.

Frank was predeceased by two sisters, Phyllis Russo, and Virginia Pietoso; his brothers, Joseph, Sammie, Jerry, and Louis. Frank is survived by his loving wife of 64 years, Katherine (Bishop) Riposta.

He was especially proud of his children, Dr. Virginia R. Heslinga and husband Rev. Dr. Jerry Heslinga, of Ashland, VA, and Mark Riposta and wife Pamela of Belfast, Maine; his grandchildren, Joshua Heslinga and wife Christine of Montpelier, VA, Joy Heslinga of Rhode Island, Katherine Riposta and husband Jojo Oliphant of Belfast, Maine, Andrew Riposta of Port St. Lucie, Florida, and Kimberley Riposta and Allen Weaver of Belfast, Maine. He also has three great-grandchildren, Eleanor and Audrey Heslinga of Montpelier, VA, and Mya Oliphant of Belfast, Maine; as well as many beloved nieces and nephews.

Friends and family are invited to call from 2-4 p.m. with a service at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2nd at Riposta Funeral Home, 182 Waldo Avenue, Belfast. Memories and condolences may be offered to the family at http://www.ripostafh.com. With thanks for their great care for Frank, those who wish may make donations in Frank’s name to Waldo County Home Health & Hospice, PO Box 407, Belfast, ME 04915.

Riposta’s File

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This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, January 15, 2017 and is republished with permission.

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