He was one of only a few who volunteered for military service, whence he became Private First Class Corcoran, a member of the 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.
On a day when many were wounded or killed, he was seriously wounded by enemy mortars while fighting on September 24, 1950, as the 32nd attempted to create a bridgehead on the opposite side of the Han River close to Soeul in South Korea. John was wounded when he instinctively and nobly used his body to protect his injured friend and comerade Paul Oliver. He died of his wounds on October 2, 1950 in Osaka Hospital, Japan.
He was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery, Lafayette, Lafayette Parish Louisiana, USA (see photos below). Paul Olivier whose life he saved continued to maintain John’s tomb in Lafayette, but Paul himself passed away recently – December 9th 2014,
so one wonders if it is maintained anymore but it is still being maintained beautifully (see photos below).
Posthumously Private First Class Corcoran was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Photos above are from the Irish in Korea
Find a Grave: John Corcoran, interred with his uncle William in Lafayette, LA.
“At first, tributes trickled in to the Guest Book that Marilyn has thoughtfully added. One was from Paul Olivier in Lafayette, Louisiana, to his buddy John Corcoran from Millstreet, Co. Cork. Corcoran, who was mortally wounded in September 1950 in what is euphemistically referred as a “friendly fire” incident. The wounded Irishman landed on Olivier’s back, likely saving his buddy’s life. Since the Corkman’s uncle passed away, Olivier has loving tended to John’s grave.” from Finding the Names, Reflections on a Labor of Love, by Brian McGinn
“Private John Corcoran of County Cork was killed when he shielded with his own body a previously wounded comrade when his unit came under attack by enemy mortars.” – from Lest We Forget: the Forgotten Irish American Soldiers of the Forgotten War
In 2003, the of U.S. granted citizenship to the 28 Irish men that died in the Korean War.
“… Then there is the story of John Corcoran, Private First Class, U.S. Army, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. In September 1950, after an early morning crossing of the Han River, mortars blasted Private Corcoran’s unit, wounding and killing many.
In what was pure reaction, Private Corcoran nobly fell on top of another soldier. To this day, Private Corcoran’s tomb in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana is cared for by the soldier whose life he saved.”
– from Eduardo Aguirre, Director U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Irish in Korea” Posthumous Naturalization Ceremony October 30, 2003 where John was posthumously granted US citizenship.
“Heart-rending scenes like this became all too common between 1950 and 1953, as most of the Irish dead were laid to rest in their native soil. Their homes spanned eleven separate counties and all four provinces, with the highest tolls–four casualties each–falling on Cork, Kerry and Limerick, closely followed by Co. Mayo’s three.
Their ages at death ranged from 21 to 27, with the majority in their early twenties. Their fathers were predominantly farmers or laborers. Their mothers were mothers. It was, you might be forgiven for thinking, a simpler and unsophisticated time. But simplicity can be an insidious and irrelevant conceit. As if, in the absence of instant messaging, young men could not live and laugh and love as intensely as their modern, tech-savvy counterparts.
Most had left Ireland in 1947 and 1948, as emigration reopened in the wake of World War II. None could have anticipated that a sudden and unexpected war in an Asian nation that most would have known only as a mission field for the Columban Fathers would soon profoundly transform their lives. A War whose casualties would include five Irish-born Columbans. And Sr. Mary Clare, an Anglican nun from Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow.
Among the military dead, four had volunteered for military service: John Corcoran from Cork, John Dillon from Limerick, Michael Gannon from Mayo and Thomas O’Brien from Tipperary. The rest–like their majority of their American comrades–were draftees.”
Private First Class Corcoran was a member of the 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was seriously wounded by the enemy while fighting near the Han River, South Korea on September 24, 1950 and died of those wounds on October 2, 1950. ** Private First Class Corcoran was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Corcoran experienced a serious casualty and/or loss of life on September 24, 1950. This occurred in or around South Korea. Circumstances of death attributed to .. “Seriously wounded in action by missile”. Buried or memorialized at Buried in Calvary Cemetery, Lafayette Parish, LA.
SEP 24, 1950 Wounded in Action South Korea .. OCT 2, 1950: Died of Wounds Osaka Hospital, Japan”
– from Honourstates.org
“September 24th – Afternoon – 32nd Infantry cross Han River lightly opposed in morning aboard 1st Amphibian Tractor and 56th Amphibious Tank and Tractor Battalions followed by 17th ROK Infantry,”
The manouver was to create a bridgehead on the opposite side of the Han River for US forces to be able to enter Soeul. This was the start of the Battle of Soeul. Military manoeuvers can be see here on page 86-88 of “Inch’on 1950: The last great amphibious assault”
First Name: John
Last Name: Corcoran
Birthplace: Millstreet, IRL
Branch: Army (1784 – present)
Home of Record: Lafayette, LA
Date of Birth: 03 September 1929
Date of Death: 02 October 1950
Rank: Private First Class
Biography: Private First Class Corcoran was a member of the 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was seriously wounded by the enemy while fighting near the Han River, South Korea, on 24 September 1950 and died of those wounds on 2 October 1950.
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal
United Nations Service Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Combat Infantryman Badge
– from Military Hall of Honour
Paul Russell Oliver, the man that John saved at the expense of his own life is pictured (above) with his daughter beside John’s place of rest. He and his family have taken care of his grave in Lafayette since John’s uncle William passed away in 1957.
His son Terence made contact with us through the comments below.
Others with Millstreet connections that fought in the Korea War
- John Duggan – formerly of Claraghatlea (brother of our poet Francis Duggan). He was a pilot in the US Air Force
- Jay Becker – husband of Sheila O’Sullivan, Claraghatlea
- Daniel J Dennehy – born March 21, 1928 in New York City, a son of Edward and Albina (Casey) Dennehy of Millstreet, Co. Cork
- John J O’Sullivan, of North Horsemount, Kilcorney