Cranberry Prosperity Elementary School
Cranberry-Prosperity Elementary, Prosperity, West Virginia
PFC. Kenneth Shadrick Innovation Room
The first fatality…
The first U.S. soldier killed in the Korean War was Private Kenneth Shadrick, Skin Fork, West Virginia. He died on July 5, 1950. In 1948, 17-year-old Shadrick joined the Army after dropping out of high school. He was deployed for a year in Japan before transferring to South Korea with his unit, the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. He served as an ammunition carrier in a bazooka squad sent to stop communist tanks near Sejong, South Korea. As he aimed a rocket at an enemy tank, he stuck his head and shoulders above the gun pit to watch. The tank’s machine gun returned fire, sending one bullet through his right arm, another through his chest, killing him instantly. The New York Times reported on July 7, “He died, as doughboys usually die, in a pelting rain in a muddy foxhole.”
Shadrick was born in Harlan County, Kentucky, one of 10 children. After dropping out of high school in 1948, he joined the U.S. Army, and spent a year of service in Japan before being dispatched to South Korea at the onset of the Korean War in 1950 along with his unit, the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. During a patrol, Shadrick was killed by the machine gun of a North Korean T-34 tank, and his body was taken to an outpost where journalist Marguerite Higgins was covering the war. Higgins later reported that he was the first soldier killed in the war, a claim that was repeated in media across the United States. His life was widely profiled, and his funeral drew hundreds of people.
His death is now believed to have occurred after the first American combat fatalities in the Battle of Osan. Since the identities of other soldiers killed before Shadrick remain unknown, he is still often incorrectly cited as the first U.S. soldier killed in the war.