Frank Praytor, "Kitten Marine"— The Man Behind The Photo

March 21st, 2018

Sandwiched in history between World War II and the Vietnam War is the “Forgotten War” of Korea. The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea in June of 1950. From there, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Australia (and more) were enmeshed in a vicious battle for politics, freedom, and life over death.

Amidst the endless battles and bloodshed, one man named Frank Praytor made an everlasting mark on the world.

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Katherine Praytor/Stars and Stripes Source: Katherine Praytor/Stars and Stripes

Praytor was born on September 24th, 1927, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He began a career in journalism in 1947, being hired as a police reporter for the Birmingham News. Later, after joining the military, Praytor was assigned to cover the Korean War overseas. Here, he’s shown second from the left.

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Stars and Stripes Source: Stars and Stripes

Although Praytor had been hired as a writer, he also got his hands on a camera. He used it to snap photos of the bloodshed, pain, and courage he would see every day during his time in the war. In a unique turn of events, however, it was a picture snapped of him that propelled him into international (and historic) fame.

While serving as a correspondent, Praytor saw a scene that broke his heart. Two kittens were orphaned in front of his eyes when another soldier shot their mother for “yeowling”. Taking pity on the innocent creature, Praytor knew he had to help.

This photo, taken on October 18th, 1952, shows Frank Praytor feeding one of the orphaned kittens. The feline, in turn, slurps back the canned milk from a medicine dropper.

The photo is powerful for a number of reasons. It shows Praytor sitting against sandbags, his helmet on his lap. Against Praytor’s hip, a gun is holstered. In his hand, however, is grasped a tiny, kitten.

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USMC Archives Source: USMC Archives

In one black-and-white scene, we see the juxtaposition of life and death, danger and security, and aggression and love. All of the deepest themes of the human psyche emerge in the midst of this one timeless snap.

Here is a colorized version by ColorizedPhotosHub.

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ColorizedPhotosHub/Deviant Art Source: ColorizedPhotosHub/Deviant Art

Praytor named the kitten Mis Hap because “she was born at the wrong place, at the wrong time,” he explained.

Praytor kept the kitten alive by feeding her canned milk and meat from rations. In the end, she grew big and strong, claiming a position as the spoiled mascot for the Division’s Public Information Department.

According to sources, the amazing photo of Praytor was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed to more than 1,700 American newspapers. People didn’t have the internet then— but this photo definitely went the 1950s’ epitome of viral.

“I got letters from girls all over the country who wanted to marry me,” Praytor told the U.S. Naval Institute in 2009 (via Daily Mail UK). “I even got a few offers from men,” he joked.

After the war, Praytor returned to Albuquerque and continued his journalism career. The loving man lived a long and fulfilling life before finally passing away at the ripe old age of 90 years old.

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USNI/Daily Mail UK Source: USNI/Daily Mail UK

Since Praytor died this past January, the iconic photo of the “Kitten Marine” has been recirculating.

“That picture of him [Praytor] caring for a kitten lost on the battlefield wasn’t just cute,” fellow marine Chas Henry explained. “It captured his character.”

“Beyond that, he was an elegant writer and master communication strategist.”

“I was fortunate to be able to count him a mentor and a friend.”

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Stars and Stripes Museum & Library/Daily Mail UK Source: Stars and Stripes Museum & Library/Daily Mail UK

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Source: Daily Mail UK