SAN DIEGO -- Fifty-five years have passed since Charles R. Marshall gave deep thought to one of his buddies who died in Korea.
One tiny letter set into motion a search that spanned more than five decades to reunite Marshall with the family of his fallen comrade Dec. 5.
“This is a story out of a book,” said Marshall, a 76-year-old San Diego resident and member of the ‘Frozen Chosin.’ “I can’t believe they have been trying to track me down all of these years.”
It was one of the warmer days in June of 1951 for Marshall and his friend and fellow corpsman, Fred D. Helems. Neither of the men could imagine that day would be the last day they would ever see one another.
“Fred went out on a mission like many others we had been on during our tour over there,” Marshall explained. “We were corpsmen attached to an engineering company; we looked out for the Marines as they searched for mines.”
Helems died bravely June 9, 1951, while looking out for the Marines in his charge. Events hours before his death set the stage for the bond that was forged between the two men’s families.
“Fred had been working on a letter to mail home to his mother and father the day he died,” Marshall said. “He never got to finish that letter.”
Helems' letter was to let his mother and father know he was fine and they would be receiving a telegram explaining to them how he had been injured a few days prior. He explained to his parents how he took shrapnel to one of his legs, but it was coming along fine.
Little to Helems’ knowledge, he would never get to mail the letter off.
“I took it upon myself to mail Fred’s letter out for him,” Marshall grimly said. “I wrote a letter with my condolences and enclosed Fred’s letter with it and mailed it to his family.”
Shortly after his friend’s death, Marshall’s tour in Korea was over. In the last few days of June, Marshall was on his way back to the States.
“I left Korea on the 29th or 30th of June,” Marshall said. “Shortly after I arrived in the States, I was sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, where I was discharged from the Navy.”
“I left Texas and went back home to Oklahoma,” Marshall added.
Little to Marshall’s knowledge, the letter he mailed to his friend's family sparked an interest to find out more about their son’s death.
“I was four at the time of my brother’s death,” said James D. Helems, the 59-year-old youngest brother of Fred Helems. “My family tried to contact Mr. Marshall, but they were told he was already out of the military.”
For 55 years the Helems family actively searched for Marshall, but through circumstances of life their paths never crossed. Fred Helems' parents died in the early 90s and were never able to locate Marshall.
“I picked up the search where my parents left off,” James Helems said. “I didn’t get to know my brother. All I new of him was from stories my parents told me and from the photos that Mr. Marshall sent to my parents.”
Marshall was the last link James Helems had to his brother. To find Marshall would mean to find out more about the brother he never got to know.
“I searched long and hard, until I finally found out Mr. Marshall was living in San Diego,” James Helems said. “I placed a call, but no one was home; he was on vacation.”
Marshall’s daughter received the answering machine message that James Helems left. She told her parents and the rest is history.
“Hopefully this will give them the closure they have been seeking for the past 55 years,” Marshall said.
“For me this is not about closure,” James Helems added. “Because I don’t want it to close.”