Published May 26, 2013
The daughter of a World War II veteran has come forward to claim her father’s medals – which mysteriously turned up in a Goodwill shop in St. Louis.
Mimi Michele McKenzie, of California, came forward to claim the medals of her dad – James Joseph McKenzie – after reading a newspaper story about how they were found.
The medals, a Silver Star -- the military's third-highest honor -- and a Purple Heart ribbon were spotted by a worker in a suburban St. Louis goodwill shop, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
They were pinned to a piece of red velvet that was attached to a faded photograph of a young man in a Marines uniform.
Ron Scanlon of the Chesterfield shop decided to take up the unknown Marine’s cause – and brought the matter to the attention of his superior, Lewis Chartrock, according to the paper.
Chartock, a Vietnam vet and military buff, subsequently recognized the medals for what they were.
“If I saw that on the floor (of the store), I would be horrified,” Chartock told The Post-Dispatch. “Somebody went to a lot of trouble to make this.”
Furthermore, Chartock found a brief, type-written accounting of how the Marine --- James Joseph McKenzie -- had earned those honors as part of the carefully constructed memorial. McKenzie, born in St. Louis in 1918, joined the Marines in October 1940, the notation read.
On April 13, 1942, the Marine sergeant's platoon encountered heavy Japanese fire on a Philippines island.
The Silver Star citation indicated that during the horror that soon ensued, McKenzie's troops sought shelter in a series of nearby tunnels, but soon became trapped.
“Disregarding the imminent danger of collapsing walls and roofs, Sgt. McKenzie heroically entered the tunnels, assisted in extricating trapped soldiers, and gave first aid to the wounded,” the citation that accompanied the medals and photo read, according to The Post-Dispatch.
However, the island soon fell to the Japanese and McKenzie would spend three-and-a-half years imprisoned in Japan, before securing his release in September 1945, just as the nation surrendered.
Upon returning to St. Louis, McKenzie apparently took up a salesman’s trade, and in 1947 married Mimi Woodlock.
The Post-Dispatch reports that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said McKenzie died in 1979 at 60. His last known address was a ranch-style home outside St. Louis.
But there was no news of McKenzie’s next of kin, so the trail grew cold – until the newspaper ran the story.
Mimi Michele McKenzie phoned the Post-Dispatch to inquire how she could get her father’s medals.
Now, Chartrock is awaiting notarized proof of McKenzie’s ties to the deceased hero so he can return the Silver Star and Purple Heart ribbon.