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'Fortitude, initiative and unswerving devotion': Remembering Creighton's first Korean War casualty, Jack Shramek

Jack Shramek, Creighton's first Korean War casualty, earned the Silver Star posthumously for gallantry in an action that cost him his own life.U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Jack Shramek was not a year removed from his Creighton University graduation when war broke out on the Korean Peninsula in June 1950.

The 25-year-old Omaha native was already a battle-hardened veteran of World War II, having seen action at Guam and Iwo Jima in a 21-month hitch with the Marines between 1943 and 1945, when he returned home and began his studies at Creighton. For a time, Shramek — who became a convert to Roman Catholicism early in his Creighton career — pondered the priesthood.

Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1949, which included a stint as The Creightonian’s city editor, Shramek re-enlisted in the Marines and was stationed as a teacher at a training school in Washington, DC.

In the summer of 1950, as Communist forces from North Korea, China and the Soviet Union pushed south to disrupt an already tenuous peace in Western-backed South Korea, Shramek requested overseas duty and was assigned to the storied 1st Marine Division, known as “The Old Breed.” The 1st Marines was among the first wave of American defenders called to action.

Shramek participated in the Inchon landing on Sept. 15, 1950, and pushed inland toward North Korean-held Seoul with the 3rd Battalion, encountering fierce fighting all the way.

Sept. 21, on the outskirts of the South Korean capital, at a place called Yeongdeungpo, Shramek and his unit were pinned down by enemy fire and began taking casualties. Searching a more advantageous firing position, Shramek managed to find a perch from which he directed enemy fire away from the rest of his platoon and neutralized several enemy weapons.

In the process, Shramek became exposed and was ultimately struck by enemy fire, dying of his wounds. He was Creighton’s first alumni casualty in the Korean War. Just four days later, United Nations forces recaptured Seoul from the North Koreans.

A funeral Mass for Shramek was said at St. John’s on Oct. 5, 1950, presided over by Creighton President the Rev. Carl Reinert, SJ. Shramek is buried in Graceland Park Cemetery in South Omaha.

An editorial headlined “No Greater Love,” in the Oct. 6, 1950 edition of The Creightonian noted Shramek appeared to be a shy, unassuming young man. “To some he gave the impression of being a weak character,” the piece read. “But, actually, he was one of the strongest men on the campus. He was reverent and humble — with the humbleness that makes one realize his own unimportance in the light of the greatness of God.”

In May 1951, Shramek received a posthumous Silver Star for his actions.

The citation reads, in part: “Private First Class Shramek moved forward in the face of intense hostile fire in order to gain a more favorable firing position. Boldly subjecting himself to the barrage of enemy fire, he accurately directed his fire against hostile positions, destroying several automatic weapons and annihilating many enemy troops before he received a fatal wound. By his courageous actions, he materially aided his platoon in successfully completing its assigned mission. His fortitude, initiative and unswerving devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class Shramek and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

While he was the first alumnus to give his life in Korea, Shramek was not the first person with a Creighton connection to be killed in the war and he was not the University's last sacrifice in the conflict.

On July 8, 1950, a Creighton professor of military science, Army Col. Robert R. Martin was killed in an attack and received what is believed to be the first Distinguished Service Cross awarded in the Korean War. Martin had personally attacked an enemy tank with a bazooka to draw fire away from the men under his command.

In November 1950, Navy Ens. Joseph W. Gardiner was killed during an air mission.

In September 1951, Billy Cooper, a Navy corpsman who had attended Creighton the previous academic year, was killed in action while tending to wounded Marines.

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