elen Schmollinger Grisham, 78, remembers well growing up in rural Platte County in a country house with her six brothers and sisters.
Helen’s brother, James Schmollinger, at three years younger, was the sibling closest in age to Helen. Helen was the oldest of the seven Schmollinger children.
James volunteered to enlist in the United States Army shortly after high school. He came home to Platte City on a short vacation, called “leave” in the military, after he completed his Army Basic Training.
“I remember him going to the Army. He took his basic training, came home and then he went away again,” said Helen Grisham, who lives at the Heritage Village of Platte City.
Helen’s husband of over 50 years, Junior Grisham, lives in the couple’s house in Platte City. Helen’s health requires her to have full-time assisted living quarters.
“My husband had a motorcycle and when James came home after basic training, he had to ride that motorcycle every day,” Grisham said.
It came as a horrific shock to Helen, to her parents and the whole family when they received official word from the Army that James had been killed in action in Korea in 1950.
“A taxi driver drove up to our house and gave my dad a telegram, which held the news about James. My dad went down on his knees and held that telegram. He just stayed on his knees and kept holding it,” Grisham said.
“I finally had to go up to him and take the telegram out of his hands. I told him that we needed to go tell momma,” Grisham recalled.
“I was very sad,” Grisham recalled. “I’m still sad. I miss him.”
James was only 20 years old when he was killed in 1950, presumably by Communist Chinese soldiers, who captured him and hundreds of other American servicemen and sent them on a brutal forced march up the Yalu River, the northern-most natural boundary between North Korea and the People’s Republic of China.
James Schmollinger’s body and none of his personal effects were ever recovered. Schmollinger was one of about 100 U.S. soldiers who died during the forced march to the Yalu River. There were survivors, one of whom, Johnnie Johnson, recorded the names and dates of death of the soldiers he witnessed die along the march.
Schmollinger’s was one of those names. Although the Army originally listed Schmollinger’s cause of death as “starvation,” the classification was later changed to “shot and killed” largely based on Johnson’s recordings.
According to another Schmollinger sister, Mary Ann Wade, of Topeka, Kan., the Army did not originally award the Purple Heart medal—earned by soldiers wounded and/or killed in combat—to her older brother, James.
Mary Ann’s petitions to the government got that changed. She received James Schmollinger’s Purple Heart medal, 56 years after the fact, a few weeks ago in the mail at her home in Topeka.