Today marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. The following article was adapted by its author from his earlier version that appeared in the Clarksburg, West Virginia, Exponent Telegram newspaper, July 4, 2004.
On July 7, 1950, 57-year-old coal miner Theodore Shadrick and his wife, Lucille, were eating breakfast with their family at their home in Skin Creek Hollow, West Virginia. A neighbor arrived and blurted out that he’d heard on the news that their son Kenny had been killed.
Tow-headed Kenneth Shadrick, the third of 11 children, had become the first American solider to die on the ground in some strange place called Korea. (Earlier, an American pilot had been reported missing and was presumed dead.)
“Kenny” might not have been in harm’s way if someone hadn’t stolen his five-dollar football uniform from his locker at Pineville High School two years earlier. Although he’d been an excellent student—getting mostly A’s and reading everything in sight, especially Westerns and Fantastic Novels magazine—Kenny quit school in disgust and convinced his mother to sign papers allowing him to join the Army at age 17.
On July 5 (July 4 in America), 1950, Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick was an ammunition carrier in a bazooka squad sent to stop communist tanks near Sojong, some 40 miles from Seoul, South Korea.
The communist army of North Korea had invaded the southern half of the country on June 26 (June 25 in the U.S.). A small American force that had been there since the end of World War II joined South Korea’s efforts to stop the rapidly moving invasion.
Kenny Shadrick and the rest of the bazooka team took up positions in a muddy graveyard. American bazookas of the time, with an effective range of only about 300 yards, fired 2.36-inch projectiles that simply bounced off the sloped frontal armor of the Soviet-designed T34 tanks spearheading the attack.
An Army Signal Corps photographer, Sgt. Ray Turnbull, accompanied the bazooka team, and to help him get photos of flame blasting from the bazooka’s muzzle, Kenneth counted one-two-three aloud as each round was fired.
After the team shifted to a new position, Kenneth scrambled forward to see where a round had struck. A machine gun burst from the tank’s turret knocked him backward, killing him almost instantly.
A reporter for the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette asked Kenny’s father what his son had been fighting for.
“Against some kind of government,” he guessed.
And where was Korea? He didn’t know.
The New York Times of July 7 wrote poignantly of Kenneth’s sacrifice, “He died, as doughboys usually die, in a pelting rain in a muddy foxhole.”
Over 33,000 more Americans would die in a war that would end with the two Koreas’ pre-war borders restored. Many Americans viewed the conflict—officially designated a police action by the United Nations—as just a bloody stalemate, and they made inevitable and generally unfavorable comparisons with the recent great victories of World War II. It is often called “the Forgotten War.”
Viewed from the perspective of a half-century’s distance, many now argue it blunted further aggression during the Cold War by showing Western determination to fight and thereby may have helped to prevent a third World War.
Gerald D. Swick is the author of Historic Photos of West Virginia and is senior Web editor for HistoryNet and other Websites of the World History Group. To learn more about the Korean War, click on the links that appear on page 2.
The Rise of the Helicopter During the Korean War
Stand or Die – 1950 Defense of Korea’s Pusan Perimeter