Lancaster, Pennsylvania, US
United States Army
CPL, Company H, 2nd Bn, 38th Inf Reg, 2nd Inf Div
Kujang, Korea, 11/27/1950
The ominous news came in a brief Western Union telegram delivered to the Kast household on Cabbage Hill in early 1951: Army Corporal Samuel Wirrick, one of the family’s 13 children, was missing in action in North Korea. Since that day more than 56 years ago, Wirrick’s brothers and sisters have grown up, gotten married and had their own children and grandchildren in Lancaster County — never knowing Samuel’s fate.
In fact, long after the government classified him as “presumed dead” at the end of the Korean War, in 1953, they held hope for a miracle.
“All of us agreed, at one time or another, we were still hoping he was alive. We didn’t know,” said a younger sister, Kathy Reifsnyder, who is now 62 and lives in Pequea. “Chances were slim — actually none. But you always have that teeny, teeny hope.
“We always did until we found out different.”
Wirrick’s brothers and sisters found out different in April, when the Army notified them that military researchers had identified remains belonging to Samuel. The Department of Defense announced the positive identification on Friday.
The news brought sadness, but also a sense of relief, said Reifsnyder. “Everyone is very emotional about it,” she said. “It was also a relief that he had been identified.”
Wirrick was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. His unit came under heavy attack from Chinese forces near the Chongchon River in North Korea in late November 1950. The unit withdrew to positions near the town of Kujang, but Wirrick was later reported missing in action.
His remains were recovered by a joint American-North Korean team in 2000 and eventually were identified through mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons, as well as material remains and circumstantial evidence.
Wirrick was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in October.
As a teen, Wirrick was a skilled outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing, an older brother remembers. When he had spare money, he would walk a few blocks to the old Strand Theater on Manor Street for the matinees. Reifsnyder described her brother, who was 12 years her senior, as being eager to join the Army. He signed up for service in 1949 — when he was only 17.
“I guess he just wanted to go, because he lied about his age,” Reifsnyder said. “He was only 17 when he went in and a little over 18 when he died.”