Thursday, May 30, 2019

Kenny Shadrick: The Hard Labor Kid

This is Kenny Shadrick from Pineville High School, located near Wyoming, West Virginia. Kenny was the third of ten children, born in 1931 to coal miner Theodore Shadrick and his wife Lucille.  Kenny was an avid reader and an "A" student. He joined the high school football team after his father spent five dollars for his uniform.  In October 1948, the uniform was stolen.  Kenny was so upset by this that he quit school and joined the army the next month. Because he was only 17 years of age, his enlistment required his mother's signature.  Kenny proceeded immediately to Fort Knox for basic training.

This second picture shows Kenny in the Army, probably in Japan during the occupation, prior to the start of the Korean War. Kenny mailed this photo home to his parents, signed "The Hard Labor Kid."

This photo was taken July 5, 1950 by U.S. Army SGT Charles R. Turnbull, who assisted war correspondent Maggie Higgins.  Miss Higgins and a handful of other western reporters witnessed some of the earliest engagements of the Korean War.  The U.S. Army's initial Korea deployment - Task Force Smith - had been overrun the previous day.  The North Korean tanks continued their drive south toward P'yongt'aek and the defensive line established by the 34th Infantry Regiment's first battalion.  Kenny was among the 34th's vanguard of troops facing the NKPA tanks.  As the opposing forces opened fire, SGT Turnbull took this photo of a bazooka team that included Kenny Shadrick (right).  Seconds after this photo was taken, the bazooka operator fired the weapon. Kenny then immediately stood up to observe the projectile's impact.  As he did this, he was struck in the chest and arm by machine gun rounds fired by one of the tanks.  Kenny died within minutes. There's another photo of Kenny lying in a ditch after he was shot, but I'll spare you that one.

Maggie Higgins deserved great credit for putting herself in harm's way to generate good stories.  But either she or her editors exercised poor fact checking.  As a consequence, Kenny Shadrick was memorialized in the July 17, 1950 edition of Life Magazine as the "First American soldier killed in Korea."  That misinformation is often repeated to this day.  That label fails to account for the dozens of casualties from Task Force Smith.  That's not to take anything from Kenny Shadrick, the "Hard Labor Kid."  At least Kenny's remains were recovered and sent home, where he was buried in the Blue Ridge Memorial Gardens in Prosperity, West Virginia.


Friday, May 24, 2019

P'yongt'aek: Philip's First Fight

U.S. Army 

The following is an excerpt from "The Battle of Turkey Thicket" (ISBN 978-0-9990983-2-5), the story of PVT Philip Hughes, who was one of the first - and youngest - of the American soldiers initially committed to the Korean War.

July 6, 1950.  Platoon leaders scanned the landscape for crags, rises, and other features that provided natural concealment; troops were dispersed accordingly. To prepare the ground for defense, the soldiers created barricades from logs, rocks, and the like. When such materials were lacking, they would have to dig foxholes instead. 

The rain intensified as evening approached. Some of the men donned their standard-issue rain ponchos. They found how difficult it is for a man to sling a shovel around while cloaked in a knee-length tarpaulin. Once at rest, the soldier could pull the poncho's neckline up over his chin to foil the wetness. It was only a matter of time, however, before the rain invaded a seam in the poncho's rubberized fabric. The wearer was inevitably forced to endure a rivulet of cold water running down his back. The foxholes began to fill with rain water.

Sergeants wandered about the men, checking on weapon readiness and offering words of encouragement. Each man had just under 100 rounds of ammunition. There were no grenades....

Friday, May 17, 2019

Task Force Smith: The Tip of the Arrow

U.S. Army photo.
Morning, July 2, 1950. Taejon, South Korea. These were the very first American soldiers committed to battle in the Korean War.  They numbered about 540, forming a reinforced company under the command of 34-year-old LT COL Brad Smith. Organized as "Task Force Smith," these men were drawn from the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division, part of the U.S. occupation forces based in Japan. They flew to Korea on July 1, and immediately embarked by train for Taejon, where they arrived on the morning of July 2.  Their arrival is captured here in this photo.

Korea offered little in the way of creature comforts even during peacetime.  Now at war, the infrastructure such as this train station would be strained to capacity - and eventually destroyed as the war descended upon it. Here we see sleep-deprived Americans at Taejon as they prepare to march north for Suwon. Note the Korean shoe-shine boy to the right, offering his services to whomever is interested.

It's fair to say that the men of Task Force Smith had no idea of what they were getting into.  These boys were young - half were teenagers. They were unprepared for what awaited them.  Their initial clash with North Korean forces on July 5 pitted them against North Koreas who were more numerous, better equipped, and motivated through intense indoctrination. The results proved to be disastrous for the Americans. To this day, U.S. Army infantry training curricula presents Task Force Smith as a case study in how not to conduct war.  

Friday, May 10, 2019

Appreciation for the P-38 (Can Opener)

The ubiquitous P-38 can opener was arguably the most important tool used by ground soldiers in Korea.
When PVT Philip Hughes deployed to Korea in July 1950, his dietary intake was limited almost totally to C-rations.  Like the weapons, uniforms, and vehicles employed by the U.S. Army in 1950, "C-rats" were all war surplus, shipped to the western pacific in 1945 in anticipation of an allied invasion of Japan. C-rats and other materiel were accumulated in post-war Japan; much of it was put to use during the early stages of the Korean War.

Each C-rat carton included six cans of food (sufficient for one day's meals), some rudimentary toiletry items, and a pack of cigarettes and matches.  Also included was a P-38 can opener: a 1.5-inch device fabricated from two pieces of hardened, stamped steel.  It was hinged together so that the tool folded flat for sotrage. It turns out that P-38 could handle a multitude of tasks.

This simple yet brilliant design had a hole in its face that allowed the bearer to thread it on the same chain with his dog tags, thus precluding its loss:

The War Department had its unique bureaucratic nomenclature for this device: "Opener, Can, Hand, Folding, Type I." Aside from opening cans of ham and eggs or franks and beans, the P-38 could  substitute for a standard-head screwdriver when field-stripping a weapon.  One could use it to scrape a mess kit (plate), strip wires, or strike a flint.  If need be, the P-38 could cut the fabric of a wounded soldier's uniform. Or deflate a tire, adjust a carburetor, or pick shrapnel out of a wound.  Need decorations for a combat Chrismas tree? Simply collect a handful of P-38s from your squad.    

Originated by the Army's Quartermaster command just prior to World War II, the P-38 emerged from the Subsistence Research and Develoment Laboratory on Pershing Road in Chicago. Leading its development was COL Rohland A. Isaker, a veteran of Army field deployments dating back to the veracruz Expedition of 1916. His first-hand experience from these operations inspired his development of modern methods for food preparation and packaging. Manufacture of the P-38 was alloted to Washburn Company of Rockford, Illinois and the Speaker Corporation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  While the total count of P-38 units manufactured is not available, we can be confident that many millions were made.  

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Bartholdi Legacy

Clockwise from top left: Capt. Cyril Bartholdi, c. 1950;  C. Bartholdi during World War II; Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Cyril's ancestor and sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, commemorated on a 1985 U.S. postage stamp.

Capt. Cyril Bartholdi arrived in Korea by ship on August 5, 1950. He left Bremerton, Washington to cross the Pacific with the balance of the U.S. Army's 23rd Infantry Regiment. Now age 31, he was a World War II veteran, and the commander of the 23rd's C Company.  Immediately upon their arrival at the port of Pusan, the 23rd was advised to prepare for advancing to the front within an hour's notice.

Bartholdi and his men had arrived at perhaps the most perilous time in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter.  North Korean forces enjoyed numerical superiority as well as the initiative.  The opposing American forces could not move enough men fast enough to counter every enemy advance along the front line defined mostly by the Naktong River.  The defense of Pusan - or more specifically, its ports - was to be maintained "at all costs." Failure to do some would risk losing the only means of receiving additional men and crucial materiel.  Bartholdi received such an order as his men dug in on a non-descript hill overlooking the Naktong.

As it happened to so many other units during the summer of 1950, Bartholdi's company bore the brunt of a nighttime attack, this one on September 1.  His men fought until food and ammunition were depleted.  C Company issued a radio message back to regimental command, requesting permission to withdraw to a more tenable line of defense.  The query was met with a denial, as was the next, then another.  Then the radio traffic ceased.

The history would be assembled years later from a handful of Americans who survived the battle only to be captured and held as prisoners of war.  Bartholdi was among the few men left standing who had no choice but to surrender due to exhaustion and a lack of ammunition.  Over the next month some of these men would be executed at the whim of their captors; survivors were marched northward pending their imprisonment in North Korea.  Bartholdi managed to survive for about a month in captivity, when he reached Taejon only to be executed on September 26 as the North Koreans hastened their northward retreat. 

U.S. Army graves registration would find and identify Bartholdi's remains.  He was ultimately interred back home in Wasco County, Oregon. It was there where the Bartholdi family became fairly prosperous thanks to their cement business, which won numerous contracts for installing municipal sidewalks and related infrastructure.

And Frederic A. Bartholdi (1834-1904)? He was a direct ancestor of Cyril's.  History remembers him as the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.