World War II hero's medals found inside Goodwill store

Friday, May 24, 2013 | 11:49 a.m. CDT; updated 12:52 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 27, 2013

CHESTERFIELD — Officials with Goodwill are searching for relatives of a World War II veteran whose medals — including the Silver Star and Purple Heart — somehow wound up at a suburban St. Louis Goodwill store.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Goodwill's director of loss prevention, Ron Scanlon, saw a shadow box Wednesday at the Chesterfield store and took a closer look. Inside, he found a picture of a smiling Marine surrounded by medals taped to a red velvet liner.

A scrap of paper told the story of Marine Sgt. James Joseph McKenzie, a former prisoner of war who performed heroism during a heavy artillery barrage from the Japanese in the Philippines.

It isn't clear how the box of medals ended up at Goodwill. After finding them, Scanlon alerted his boss, Lewis Chartock, a Vietnam veteran and military aficionado. He recognized the value of the medals and began searching for relatives, believing the donation was a mistake.

Documents from the display indicate that McKenzie was born in St. Louis in 1918 and joined the Marines in October 1940.

On April 13, 1942, his platoon came under heavy Japanese fire on Corregidor Island in the Philippines. The Silver Star citation says his fellow troops sought shelter in tunnels and 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 read.

The island fell to the Japanese a month later, and McKenzie was taken captive, according to a 1947 article in the Post-Dispatch. He spent more than three years imprisoned in Osaka, Japan. He was released in September 1945, just as Japan surrendered.

McKenzie moved back to St. Louis and worked as a salesman. He married in 1947. He died in 1979 at age 60.

Records indicate McKenzie's daughter, Rebecca, is now 58, but efforts to find her have been unsuccessful.

Still, Chartock believes James McKenzie has a relative somewhere who would be interested in claiming the medals. If not, he might donate them to a museum.

"I think it's amazing this thing turned up right before Memorial Day," he said.


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