July 5th: First Casualty of the Korean War

Robert F. Kennedy Fatally Shot: June 5, 1968

If your understanding of the Korean War comes from watching the TV show M*A*S*H, you’re not alone. The Korean War has been referred to as the forgotten war. July 5th marks the 68th anniversary of the first American casualty of the war. With North Korea dominating headlines again, we’ve explored our archives to give you a brief overview of the Korean War from the headlines as it happened.

Korean War Ends
At the end of WWII, Korea was divided into zones. The Soviets occupied North Korea where communism reigned, and the US occupied South Korea. Both Koreas longed for unification —but each on their own terms. The communist leader of the North, Kim II Sung, attempted to unify the Koreas by force when on June 25, 1950, he ordered 75,000 soldiers to spill over the 38th parallel line into the South. Five days later, President Harry S. Truman ordered US troops into action as America sought to stop the spread of communism.

By August, North Korean troops had taken control of Seoul and much of the country. In September, under General Douglas MacArthur, the US launched a major counter-offensive and drove Northern troops back to the 38th parallel line and continued across it until troops nearly reached the Chinese border. The Chinese government fearing invasion sent 200,000 soldiers to bolster North Korea.

With the help of China, and support from the Soviets, North Korea pushed US troops back across the 38th parallel again. Fighting was intense. Among significant battles were the Battle of Inchon and the Battle of Chosin. US losses and a disagreement in strategy spurred President Truman to fire General MacArthur. General Matthew B. Ridgway took over command.

Nearly three years after the war started, it ended right where it started – at the 38th parallel line. The US lost 36,500 soldiers. There was no clear winner and no peace treaty established. An armistice was adopted designating a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that separated North from South. Nearly 70 years later, the Korean peninsula remains divided.

Kim II Sung remained the North’s leader until his death in 1994 when his son Kim Jong II took over. After Kim Jong II’s death in 2011, Kim Jong Un, the son of Kim Jong II and grandson of Kim Sung II was named Supreme Commander.

Do you have a relative that fought in the Korean War? Tell us about it! You can search our archives to find more articles about the war! You can also access Korean War casualty records on Fold3.com.

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47 thoughts on “July 5th: First Casualty of the Korean War

  1. My father was in the Navy during the Korean War. I have some of his letters that he sent to my mother during that time. It is fascinating to read through them and realize how the world was back then. Thanks for this article.

  2. As a big fan of the posthumous Medal of Honor recipient Chaplain (Capt.) Father Emil J. Kapaun, whose cause for beatification is currently being studied at the Vatican – this blog post has renewed my interest in searching for wartime articles mentioning him. I feel certain that the office of the Vice-Postulator in Wichita has done a thorough and exhaustive search, but my curiosity is certainly piqued. Thank you for this informative post!

    1. God bless Father Kapaun and the bravery he demonstrated as a captive; he was the “face of Christ” to his fellow suffering POWs. I hope his canonization takes place some day, and that he intercedes for us here on earth.

      1. I’m sure he’s blessed, but you don’t need anyone but Christ to intercede for you. He is the only Savior. Come up with all the titles you want for Saints who passed before, but an intercessor is one who pleads on your behalf … That’s what Christ does, and wishing for anyone else is an affront to Him, the only one who paid for all your sins, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

        1. Amen to that.
          Only Jesus is the intercessor. Dead people can not intercede for anyone.

          1. Aren’t all the saved alive in heaven enjoying their eternal life? What better way for them to while away their time by being intercessors or is all their time taken up singing the Lord’s praises.?
            I hope I can catch the train to Baseball Heaven when it’s my time.

  3. My Dad fought in the Korean War. He was in the US Army’s 40th Infantry division, which was composed of activated California National Guard troops, and regular Army trained at Fort Lewis (Pops was from nearby Tacoma, Washington.) He saw action, earned a Combat Rifleman Badge there, and got a hardship discharge from the Army because his Dad was dying of cancer stateside.

    Pops always said he was glad M*A*S*H* was on the air, since America would have completely forgotten about the conflict otherwise. He also said he understood the alienation and frustration of Vietnam War vets, since he also experienced no parades or accolades, a nation that didn’t want to recognize his service, and an ultimate stalemate in the combat zone that cost tens of thousands of American lives.
    Respect to the men and women who served there, and who’ve maintained the DMZ since.

    1. Yes, people call it a stale mate, but they forget that most of the pennisula was lost by the time we hit the shores, we regained what was lost and drew a line in the sand. The KW Vets and their families should be proud.

      1. Nothing to be proud of really.

        NK claims that the South attacked first, and that it attacked in response, and in response to the mass execution of communists and communist sympathizers in South Korea by its US installed dictator.

        The US went on to obliterate every single village, town and city in NK and take between 1 and 3 million lives.

        Again, not a legacy to be proud of.

  4. Kapaun Air Station (near Kaiserslautern), Germany is named after Chaplain Kapaun. I don’t know if it’s still an operating installation, as it’s been over 30 years since I left Germany.

    1. I’m uncertain about Kapaun Air Station, but the US Army Chaplain Center & School is located at Fort Jackson, SC. There’s a chaplain’s jeep and helmet on display outside of the Center, and the registration number stenciled on the jeep is actually Chaplain Kapaun’s date of death at POW Camp 5 in Pyoktong, North Korea: 5231951. Last week, Father Kapaun’s nephew and living recipient of the MoH for his uncle took the Medal on a tour of the Southeast USA to visit three of the Chaplain’s aging fellow POWs before they pass on. While “in the neighborhood”, he also visited Fort Jackson and met the current crop of chaplains in training. An unforgettable experience for one and all.
      Photos: https://www.facebook.com/groups/208419685852201/

  5. I was born while my dad was fighting in the Korean War. he did not get to see me for the first time until I was 18 months old. Dad also fought in WW II and as Viet Nam war was heating up he decided to retire (after 20 years) thinking he was too old to go fight in a 3rd war.

    1. Sandy, my Dad fought in WWII and the Korean war, too. Like your Dad, he decided to retire when the Vietnam war heated up. I think my Dad did at least one tour of duty in Vietnam, early on, when our military was in “advise and train” type mode. After the Cuban Missle Crisis, when they wanted him to go back to Vietnam, he said he had an intuition he’d never had before, that if he went to Vietnam, he’d never come home, so he retired. This story has always been moving to me, thanks for inspiring me to share, your story of your Dad’s decision prompted my memory.

  6. My husband, Charles E Cox, was in Korea in 1950-1951. He fought on Old Baldy and Pork Chop hill. He also fought in Veit Nam. He was in service for 28 years. Passed away in 1975 before he could retire. Was to retire at 30 yrs.

  7. I have been a devotee of Fr.Kapaun since the 1950’s. I arrived in Korea as an infantrymen three months after his death.I was in the 25 division from August 1951 to March 1952

    1. Thank you for your service and God bless!
      Viet Nam Tropic Lighting Tot (daughter of 25th Div, Viet Nam)

    2. Thank you for your service and God bless!
      Viet Nam Tropic Lighting Tot (daughter of 25th Div, Viet Nam)

  8. My Dad was in the Navy and stationed on Kwajalien Atoll during the Korean War. He went into active duty in January of 1953 and then was Honorably discharged in December of 1953 or 4. His name was Albert Allen Jouglard and I have searched many times for men that might have served with him. But have not found any of them. I did find one of the men who was a friend of his while there, his last name was Dean, they had another friend whose name I do not know. My Dad died in 2008 from MS and liver problems. I would love to hear from those who served on Kwajalein with him. I was a baby when he went into the Korean War and two years old when he came home.

  9. My father-in-law, Ronald G Spencer Sr, was a POW during the Korean War. I don’t believe he ever got over the Post Traumatic Stress he suffered as a prisoner of war before he passed away Aug 1999. He was the only son in the Spencer family, but he did have three sons to carry on the family name.
    My brother was serving on the DMZ in the 80’s. The one thing I remember most is that he was told NOT go off base with an American uniform on! Both sides will shoot.

  10. Why has the author chosen to ignore the contribution from other countries that also served in Korea under the UN flag??

    1. I am afraid it is fairly typical. US media consumers turn off quicklly if US troops are not at the heart of the story. The Forgotten War has also been used about the Eastern Front in WW II, despite the massive battles there and the enormous contribution to the final victory. (Of course, I am fairly confident that Russian histories give similarly little discussion of the actions on the Western Front).
      This has had a bad effect, leaving Trump and his supporters with the idea that we win wars all by ourselves. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, major sections of the countries were under British control, and other NATO allies were there as well. I saw Aussies in Iraq, and we owe a big apology to the Canadians for not disciplining a pilot who, disobeying orders, bombed a Canadian unit in Afghanistan.

        1. Really!?!? Canada is a democracy not a dictatorship and the US failed to win against “Dictators” in both Korea and Vietnam. This is not to disrespect those who fought and survived or fought and died in either of those conflicts. Just pointing out the annoyingly petty and jingoistic nature of “greatly concerned’s” comment.
          My father served in Korea, and he had similar experiences to Michael Marinacci’s father. He even said back in the 50’s WWII vets would make fun of him for having served in a “suckers” war. I suspect these were not WWII vets who actually saw combat; they would know better.

          1. Neither Vietnam or North Korea are dictatorships. They are communist states.

            The US had no business interfering in the politics of Vietnam or Korea, or napalming and carpet bombing the cities, towns and villages of North Korea or Vietnam.

            At least Trump has the balls and integrity to take on the US military industrial complex and try and get America’s crippling debt under control.

          2. Please note that the term “Dictators” is in quotes and references “greatly concerned’s” comment. Fighting against dictators was one excuse, among many, often raised by people for going into Vietnam and Korea when I was a child. Maybe they were over-interpreting Marx’s concept of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

  11. I was but a child of 7-10 years of age during the Korean War. I remember the boyfriend of the girl next door getting drafted. He had a very strong intuition that he would die if sent to Korea and tried everything to not get sent there. But he was sent to Korea and was killed within a week.

  12. My dad was a Navy aviator in a Heavy Attack squadron and was shot down and was rescued in the sea. I still have the pistol that was issued to Navy pilots at that time and the original bill of sale from Pensacola. Dad shared his memories with my daughter when she needed a presentation in high school. I never knew he could hear bullets being shot at him until my daughter told his story. He died three years ago and my daughter and I still miss him so much.

  13. My dad [Albert Mergendahl was in WWII and Retired then he went into the Korean War where he died in 1951. I never knew him but still proud of him and all that joined the armed service.

  14. My uncle Robert B. Grace III was a member of the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division as a heavy weapons infantryman. He was seriously wounded by the enemy near Chochiwon, South Korea on July 9, 1950 and returned to duty on July 13, 1950. He was Killed in Action while fighting the enemy in South Korea on August 15, 1950, he was 17 years old. Private Grace was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Korean War Service Medal.

  15. My first cousin, Charles L. Nibert, Jr., was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was listed as Missing in Action while fighting the enemy in North Korea on December 19, 1950. He was presumed dead on December 31, 1953. Sergeant First Class Nibert was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Korean War Service Medal. Before joining the Army Charles grew up with us as our closest cousin and my brother’s best friend. He had been a quiet, hard-working, farm boy who had barely turned 20 when he was captured a few days before Christmas and killed near Hungnam, North Korea very early in the war, My brother joined the Air Force a few months later and I followed joining the Navy early in 1952.

  16. Thank you so much for the touching memories of all who had loved ones who served and who served themselves in this, the “forgotten war”.
    My father served in the war as part of the 98th bomb wing. He was a turret gunner on a B-29 and had brought back a crooked trigger finger that he bore for the rest of his life from clutching the trigger on his gun though so many air battles.
    He was stationed in Japan.
    He spent the last few years of his life trying to find anyone from his unit. Unfortunately the internet was still young and there was not the information available that there is today.
    He rarely talked about his time over there though he did mention that when he returned he was spat on by people who were opposed to the war. I think he was very disappointed that though he served his country when it called, he did not receive a welcome when he came home.
    My mother also served as a cartographer during the Korean war in the air force. My parents met while they were both stationed at Spokane Air Force Base.
    My mother is still living and is very proud of her service and the work she accomplished.
    I am very proud of them both and love them all the more for their dedication to our country.

  17. My father wrote a book about his tiime in the Korean “Conflict” and my brother many years later worked in Korea as a mental health therapist to the military. During his time there he retraced my father’s steps in South Korea. My father was lost behind enemy lines on the Northern side with several others and miraculously a lost troop truck rumbled by & they got on board & high tailed it back to the South side!

  18. My father was stationed in Japan when the Korean conflict heated up…his was one of the first units in. He never talked about it much when I was growing up, but now at 88 he’s finally opening up some. I’m sure war-time experiences stick with a person like nothing else. I thank my dad and all military personnel for their service.

  19. I m now 90 went in army in 1950…Korea in 1951..
    Survived …we should have never been there and we should get the hell out now

  20. All I can say is that in a way I was not as lucky as many others were; nonetheless I am most grateful and thankful and happy that some of us survived the war and are able to talk about it. I get very emotional when the korean war comes up for discussion/comment. I was not one of the happy ones . My fiance had served in the marines; completed his tour. Very shortly thereafter he was recalled to serve in korea. Another good friend ; that escorted me to hi high school prom dance had just joined the army. The moral of my story is: thety both died in Korea. It left a very big hole in my heart. I still feel the pain and anger it has caused me.. My thanks goes out to all the brave men to protected us. God Bless all our troops of then and all the troops of today. God also bless all those that died to protect our country and us.

  21. North Korea invaded South Korea on my birthday June 25, 1950. I was in the weekend Naval Air Reserve, and my fighter squadron volunteered and was activated a few weeks later. We were stationed at San Diego NAS, sometimes El Centro NAS, equipped with WWII Corsair fighters. One of our pilots was killed when he crashed on a low level practice gunnery run. Our Corsairs were replaced by Grumman Panther jet fighters.

    In May 1951 we shipped out on the WWII Essex-class carrier Bon Homme Richard and joined Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan off Korea. We operated in a cluster of ships – two Essex class carriers surrounded by a ring of destroyers and a battleship or cruiser. The Air Group on our ship consisted of my squadron of jet fighters, other fighter squadrons flying Corsairs, and attack squadrons with Douglas AD attack bombers.

    One of our enlisted men was killed in a flight deck accident. We lost some planes to ground fire, but our pilots were fortunately rescued. One was wounded. Other squadrons in the Air Group were not so fortunate.

    Future moon-walker Neil Armstrong was flying Panthers from the carrier Essex.

    I worked nights on the hangar deck, doing structural repairs to the jets that were damaged by ground fire (or shipboard plane handlers). All I saw of Korea was a blue outline on the horizon, and North Korea had no means to attack our ships. But one of our escorting destroyers struck a stray mine, killing 26 crew members and wounding another 40.

    My carrier returned to San Diego in December 1951, and I completed my two years active duty at Miramar NAS near San Diego.

  22. My husband, Charles, just turned nineteen when his ship docked in Korea August 1950. His unit, 6th Tank Battalion 24th Division fought their way out of the perimeter on their way North arriving at Seoul Christmas. Charles was a tank driver in Company A. His friend from Georgia, Cullpepper, was also a Tank driver who was killed after hitting a road mine. His unit fought their way to the Yalu River only to retreat when General MacArthur was fired. Charles has told me about a few of his heavy battles. He was so lucky to survive when his Tank hit a road mine.

  23. My dad Charrles R Butler was drafted and fought in the Korean War. His job was to keep communication lines open. He was a army corporal. He never really talked about the war. He did say the ship ride over was terrible. My mom said he was never the same person he was before the war. The war changed him. He lived a good life, had three kids, worked hard and always put his family first. He passed away several years ago. He is missed! He’s buried @ Veteran’s Cemetery in IGO/ONO, CA.

  24. What an honor it was to serve my country. My father served during WWI, three brothers during WWII, and I during the Korean War era. I now have a grandson in the National Guard. He has served a tour in Afghanistan and is now on his second tour in Iraq. I served in the USAF for four years as a crew member on a heavy bomber. The west coast is the closest I ever got to the Korean War . But I like to think our nuclear threat kept the Soviet Bear at bay while the heroes did the real work in the air, sea, and ground of Korea. We must always maintain a strong military to preserve our American way of life.

    1. If the American way of life is killing millions of people in foreign lands for the 1%. It shouldn’t be.

      America is better than that, and has the capacity to compete and win based on its brains, technological achievements, technological capacity and entrepreneurial skills.

      Relying on brute force is reptilian.

  25. America should stop sending our military men & woman to war in other countries. Those young men in those other countries need to fight for their own countries rather than come here and go to our finest universities while Americans fight and die for them. We should never fight for or with the U.N. 1966-68 101st airborne infantry VN survivor

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