Saturday, May 19, 2018

Louis Ulrich's Unending Tour of Duty

April 23, 1951.  South Korea.  Corporal Louis Ulrich was due to go home.  He had enough rotation points after 10 months of almost non-stop combat.  As part of the first wave of American troops sent to Korea, Ulrich one of the few to survive the North Koreans’ relentless push southward to the Pusan Perimeter during the summer of 1950. Ulrich would be momentarily listed as missing-in-action in September. When the Americans’ fortunes reversed after the September 15 Inchon invasion, Ulrich participated in the headlong rush across the 38th parallel into North Korea. There, in late November, the Americans were accosted not only by massive numbers of Red Chinese troops, but also by the onset of a bitter Siberian cold front. Ulrich was wounded during the ensuing battles in March 1951. Promoted from private to corporal, Ulrich recuperated in time to resume his place on the front line when the Chinese launched their spring offensive on April 21, 1951. The U.S. Army could spare no one. Ulrich’s departure was put on hold.

Louis Ulrich and Pvt. Philip Hughes were among the 1,981 men of the U.S. Army’s 34th Infantry Regiment as they landed at the South Korean port of Pusan on July 2, 1950. After two months of ferocious combat losses, the 34th was given a 10-day hiatus in a rest camp along with the rest of the battle-weary 24th Division. By this point, only 184 members of the 34th Regiment’s original commitment were still standing. Among these were Ulrich and Hughes.

The 34th was so depleted that U.S. Eighth Army Headquarters disbanded it on September 1, 1950. The survivors were dispersed to other regiments.  Ulrich and Hughes found themselves assigned to K (King) Company of the 19th Infantry Regiment. 

Louis Ulrich was one of five brothers raised in Philadelphia.  Their home was in a rough industrial neighborhood, the kind in which the streets had embedded rail lines for freight trains. Like Philip Hughes, Louis Ulrich dropped out of high school in the late 1940s to join the Army, which added him to the peacetime occupation garrison in Japan.   

Both Ulrich and Hughes were killed in Korea.  In a sense, Hughes was the luckier of the two because he died on September 12, 1950, which spared him from months of exposure during the subsequent winter.  Plus, Philip’s remains were returned home for interment. Louis Ulrich would suffer through a full enlistment, only to be declared missing in action on April 23.  On January 4, 1954, six months after the Korean War cease-fire, the U.S. Army declared that Cpl. Ulrich was dead. This was merely a legal formality that allowed his mother to collect survivor’s benefits.  Louis Ulrich’s remains were never recovered.

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