Looking Back: The Korean Conflict and Joseph L. Hendricks, Jr.

(Photo courtesy Betty Gaeng)

Each year, before Memorial Day, my objective is to feature one local service member whose name is engraved on the Edmonds School District’s Veterans’ Memorial Monument, or one who is mentioned in my book Etched in Stone. This year, my choice is Joseph L. Hendricks, Jr., a former Meadowdale teenager. Known as Joe Hendricks, he was only 17 years old in 1949, when he left high school in Edmonds and joined the U.S. Army.  Perhaps, he was expecting adventure and glory—instead, on a battlefield in far-away South Korea, his life ended too soon.

The Korean Conflict—June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953

The photo taken at The Forgotten War Memorial in Washington, D.C., reminds us that the Korean Conflict was never officially declared a war—instead, our government called it a police action. Actually, this was a conflict that had neither an official beginning, nor an official ending.

The disagreement began June of 1950, when the newly created United Nations met to discuss and vote on a strategy to intervene after 75,000 members of the USSR-supported North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea. The line crossed during the invasion was the 38th parallel, which had been created in 1948 to separate the Soviet-supported Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), supported by the United States. With the USSR absent and unable to veto the plan, the UN Security Council voted to organize an army of soldiers, all from different countries, to put a stop to the invasion. On June 27, 1950, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. troops to join the UN forces. America’s objective was to restrain the spread of communism. Twelve billion dollars was allocated by Congress to fund the military effort, and American troops made up about 90% of the United Nations Command.

Three years later, after the loss of thousands of lives, the conflict came to an end right where it began, on the 38th parallel, with no official peace treaty signed. This “police action” in Korea led to the death or disappearance of more than 36,500 U.S. soldiers.

Decades later, in December of 2021, North and South Korea, the U.S. and China finally agreed to declare a formal ending to the Korean Conflict. With this agreement, the U.S. had expectations for information and/or recovery of approximately 7,500 of the country’s still- missing service members who were left behind in graves on foreign soil or in military prisons when the fighting came to an end in 1953.

This Forgotten War became the first military action of the lengthy Cold War, leading to an American military presence in South Korea for many years.

The Short Life of Joseph L. Hendricks, Jr. (1931-1950)

Joe Hendricks, Jr. was born Sept. 15, 1931 in Seattle, the son of Joseph, Sr. and Pauline Hendricks of Meadowdale. The long-time family home was located on Olympic View Drive — now part of Lynnwood.

Joe Hendricks, Jr. attended Edmonds Grade School and was enrolled at Edmonds High School when he enlisted in the U.S. Army on Jan. 14, 1949 at the age of 17.

Following his enlistment and induction into the army, Joe Hendricks was sent to Fort Ord in California for training. He sailed from Seattle for Japan on June 16, 1949, and later was a member of the first ground troops ordered to South Korea in June of 1950. He served in the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, as a Reconnaissance Scout for the 24th Infantry Division.

The 34th Regiment arrived at Pusan, South Korea on July 2, 1950 — its 24th Infantry Division was said to have been the first American ground combat unit in South Korea. Headquartered at Taejon, South Korea, the infantry division was soon involved in a fierce battle. The offensive lasted five days, with heavy casualties on both sides before withdrawal from Taejon on July 23, 1950.

In mid-August of 1950, 18-year-old Pfc. Joe Hendricks was the first soldier from the Seattle area to be reported missing in the Korean action. However, on April 24, 1951, the Department of Defense informed his parents that their son’s name was no longer on the MIA listing — instead, it had been confirmed that he had been killed in action on July 20,1950, near Taejon, South Korea.

After a delay, Joe Hendricks’ remains were returned home — his casket arriving in Edmonds by train. On Nov. 10, 1951, funeral services were held at Swedberg’s Chapel, followed by burial at Swedberg’s Edmonds Cemetery (today’s Edmonds Memorial Cemetery).

At the family home in Meadowdale, he was survived by his parents; younger twin brothers, Robert and Richard Hendricks, and a younger sister Mildred Hendricks. He was also survived by an older sister, Mrs. Delores Hendricks Cross, of Edmonds.

Pfc. Joe Hendricks’ father died in 1981, his mother in 1984, and his younger brother, Robert Hendricks, in 1983—all three are buried near the grave of Pfc. Joe Hendricks at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. Younger sister Mildred Hendricks Hadden died in 2005, and she is also buried at the cemetery. Richard Hendricks, twin brother of Robert, died in 1981, and he is buried in Silvana, Washington.

Joe Hendricks’ official military records are not available — very likely they were among those lost in the 1973 disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. No duplicate copies were kept of those important records. Most of the dates and information regarding Pfc. Hendricks’ U.S. Army service used here have been gathered from his military unit’s records, various unofficial records and local newspaper articles — and some from my own memories.

At the present time, Pfc. Joseph L. Hendrick, Jr.’s sacrifice is remembered on the Veterans’ Memorial Monument now located at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery in the Westgate area; at the Edmonds Veterans Plaza in downtown Edmonds, and also, online at the Korean War Project Remembrance.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

  1. I just placed a hold on your book Etched In Stone at the Edmonds Library. Thank you. A meaningful read for Memorial Day.

    My Edmonds News readers, the Mukilteo Library has another copy available.

  2. I am trying to find a copy of Etched In Stone and am having no success. If Betty, or one of our readers has a source I will be very happy to purchase a copy. I knew some of those whose names are in the book from my time in Edmonds schools, and served in Vietnam during the time of the loss of a Meadowdale HS boy.

  3. Since I completed the book in 2010 and it won a Publisher’s Commendation award from the League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations in 2011, with all the later happenings in the world and new avenues for research, I have updated my book, but have no plans for re-publication.

    Since I knew so many of our WWII and Korean victims of war and my children went to school with some of those from the Vietnam War, a lot of tears fell as I worked late into the night to find the stories. A lot of my updates have appeared through the years in My Edmonds News, Lynnwood Today and Mountlake Terrace News.

  4. Thank you for writing this article. More so ever day I have realized how much our young soldiers sacrifice for our country. The article serves as a very important reminder of these sacrifices as we come closer to Memorial Day.

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