Recently, retired Lithuanian Chief of Defense Arvydas Pocius learned he once had a cousin from Springfield, Illinois, who had served in the Korean War. Lt. Gen. Pocius honored his deceased cousin Al (Albert) Kupris of Springfield in the July 2021 issue of Lithuania’s Karys (Warrior) magazine. Our friend Vida Totoraitis translated the article (below) into English.
Korean War Soldier Corporal Albertas Juozapas Kupris
By Retired Lt. Gen. Arvydas Pocius
Karys (Warrior) Magazine
Many Americans today know little of the war fought by American soldiers on the Korean Peninsula. In America, this conflict that occurred between two tragic, much-better known wars (World War II and Vietnam) is often called “The Forgotten War.”
Yet even though war was never officially declared by the USA, tens of thousands of solders from the USA and other countries, under the banner of the United Nations (UN), participated in defending South Korea. The aim was not only to protect the country, but also to stop the spread of communism from the Soviet Union (USSR) and communist China.
An official peace treaty between the warring sides was never signed and that’s why, even today, there is still a “de facto” state of war between the two Koreas, North and South. American soldiers are still stationed in South Korea to defend its freedom and independence, and that’s why it’s important for us, still today, to understand this history and to remember those who served, including those who are serving even now.
The story of this “Forgotten War” reminds me of the novel “The Alchemist” by the popular Brazilian writer Paolo Coelho. The main character in the book abandons his village and sets out on a quest for his “life’s treasure.” Traveling all over the world, he experiences a whole range of adventures and dangers. Not finding what he was looking for, he ultimately returns home and then, unexpectedly, near the ruins of his childhood church, his long quest is finally fulfilled.
As readers of Warrior Magazine already know, since 2012 I’ve undertaken the initiative to search for our Lithuanian countrymen (compatriots) spread around the world who have taken part in wars or military operations on behalf of their diaspora countries. The stories of American soldiers of Lithuanian descent who served in the US Army were published first in Warrior Magazine, and then in 2014, in a collection entitled, “Knights of Freedom.” In 2020, a second edition of the book “Knights of Freedom” published the stories of diaspora soldiers who had served in the armies of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
Continuing my research through the labyrinth of the Internet, I came across information on my father’s maternal cousin, Albert Juozapas Kupris, who lived with his parents in Springfield, Illinois. I was surprised to learn that Albertas had served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War, something we relatives in Lithuania had never known. Understandably, during the period of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, it was not permitted to write about military service. Nor did my modest cousin Albert ever mention it.
Albert, his wife Rita, and their son Albert Joseph Kuprys, Jr. (Kuprys became Kupris in the USA) traveled to their ancestral Lithuanian homeland in May 1993 after its restoration of national independence. They even traveled to Skuode and saw the mill on Albert’s ancestors’ land. However, by that time, because of the death of Albert’s mother Vincenta Maceviciute, the bonds between the two branches of the family had long been broken (so we did not meet).
Albert’s mother Vincenta was the sister of my father’s mother Ona Maceviciute. They were born in Rusiupiu village in the Skuodo district of Lithuania. There were a total of three brothers and six sisters in the family. In 1928, Vincenta, being 19 years old, married a much older man, Albinas Kuprys, the son of a well-to-do farmer whose family owned a mill near Skuode. Six months later, the couple went to live in Springfield, Illinois, where in April 1929, their son Albertas Juozapas Kuprys (Sr.) was born.
The parents baptized him at St. Vincent de Paul (Lithuanian) Catholic Church, to which Albinas already belonged. In Springfield, Albert attended Catholic grade school. He played basketball on his Catholic boys high school team and learned to play the violin and concertina. Later, he even entertained at various Lithuanian events, such as weddings. In 1947, after graduating from high school, Albert got a job at Springfield’s Sangamo Electric Company, where he was certified as an equipment operator. He worked at this factory for more than 31 years.
In the Korean War
During the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, sisters Ona and Vincenta Maceviciute only took the risk of writing to each other on special occasions. Interestingly, Albert’s wife Rita still has, in her possession, several well-preserved examples of this correspondence, which she sent copies of to me while I was searching for material about Albinas, Vincenta’s husband. These copies of the sisters’ correspondence included several envelopes mailed from Soviet-occupied Lithuania.
In 1951, with the start of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the USA decided to plunge into the fight in order to defend this war-torn country, already ravaged by the Japanese during WWII, against further invasion by the communist USSR and China. The US government instituted a military draft and Albert was called up to serve in the U.S. Army. Due to his civilian expertise, he was assigned to an engineering unit.
Albert completed a course on war engineering in Missouri, and after several months of basic combat training, he was deployed to the Korean war zone. There, he served for 11 months, seven days on active duty.
After his Korean mission, he was transferred to active reserve and assigned to the 5th Army 574 mission unit (GCED Granite City, Ill.). He remained in the active reserves for five years.
In a letter about her husband, Rita Kupris writes that in her youth, just after marrying Albert, she took an interest in his Army service. However, he did not reveal much, only that he had been called up at about the same time that he became a specialist at Sangamo Electric. He did convey to Rita that he did not regret his military service and was proud that he had done his duty with honor. He also described how he had taken special courses in infantry combat and military engineering to prepare for his mission in Korea. He never complained of the hardships there.
When Rita wanted to find out more about her husband’s wartime impressions and experiences, he would answer that American commanders had forbidden soldiers from talking about them. However, a few weeks prior to his death (Albert had cancer and died from complications of surgery), Albert, with tears in his eyes (which in 39 years of married life Rita had very rarely seen), finally began to talk about his service in the Korean War.
With great emotion, he related to Rita how the North Korean communist soldiers did not provide aid to their own wounded soldiers on the battlefield and also failed to bury their dead.
These facts notwithstanding, with great sorrow, Albert then told his wife that his best friend had died by his side in battle, and that there had been no way to immediately retrieve his body due to the need for retreat. That image of his friend’s abandoned body, even though it was later retrieved and buried with honors, had remained in Albert’s mind all the rest of his life, his most lasting impression of the war.
During the Korean conflict, US Army engineers had encountered many obstacles due to the country’s climate, terrain, and poor transportation infrastructure, and this was a real hindrance to the US and its United Nations allies. In fact, the complicated terrain often enhanced the enemy’s advantage in massive surprise attacks.
The Army’s engineering units, including Albert’s, countered the enemy’s advantages and its ability to launch surprise attacks by blowing up important bridges and lines of communication to put the brakes on the enemy’s movements. This often provided the time necessary for UN soldiers to regroup and reinforce defensive positions, even to create substantial defensive lines.
Because Albert took part in actual combat, in addition to military engineering, he was presented with the U.S. Army Combat Infantry Badge, as well as the U.N. Medal and Korean Service Medal with Bronze Star.
Albert died Jan, 7, 2008 and was buried with honors in the Camp Butler National Cemetery near Springfield with the participation of the Sangamon District Military Burial Group of veterans. This contingent included representatives of all branches of U.S. forces. A bugle played taps, the traditional melody dedicated to the memory of fallen warriors.
Rita Kupris says that after the ceremony, she met with a veteran who had been a friend of Albert’s while both served in Korea. According to the friend, everybody in their company had held Albert in high esteem. Unfortunately, after their military service, Albert and the man had never met again.
At the end of her letter to me, Rita Kupris acknowledged that it was very difficult for her to write her remembrances of her not so long ago departed, beloved husband. She said that as memories filled her heart with love, esteem, pride, sorrow, and loneliness, tears had filled her eyes. However, Rita said, she had ultimately found pleasure in re-visiting Albert’s photos and service documents—and great gratitude for the blessings of such a long married life with such an amazing man.