Robert P. Helmich
Private First Class, United States Army
CHENANGO FORKS -- Even when he was ill, Robert P. Helmich said fighting cancer wasn't the hardest thing he ever had to endure, his daughter said Friday.
The hardest thing was the 37 months and three weeks he spent as a prisoner of war in Korea during the Korean War, said Helen Hoyt of Binghamton, one of of Mr. Helmich's three children.
The 72-year-old Chenango Forks resident died Wednesday and will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery February 4, 2005, with military honors.
Mr. Helmich was 17 years old and had been in Korea only for five days when he was captured on July 5, 1950. "We had no idea how long we'd be there, no idea," he said in a 1997 interview.
The Korean War also touched Mr. Helmich in another deeply personal way. His younger brother, Theodore, who lied about his age to get into the service, died in the war.
Mr. Helmich was released on Aug. 26, 1953, and sent a telegram to his mother in Johnson City: "Freed from the Reds at last. Never so happy to be an American as today." The village marked his return home with a parade.
"He was a real quiet guy," said County Legislator David L. Lindsey, who was a friend. "I think the Korean War took a lot out of him."
Mr. Helmich told Lindsey stories of the death marches he survived and his burial of American soldiers who had frozen to death.
The stories made a deep impression on him, Lindsey said. They motivated the Broome County lawmaker to work with the Broome County Veterans Office and the office of U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert to have the federal government award medals to Mr. Helmich for his service during the Korean War.
Mr. Helmich received the medals -- including the Korean War POW medal, the Combat Medic Badge and the National Defense Ribbon -- at a special ceremony in May 1997. He also received a presidential citation. "It was a great day for him," Lindsey said.
Mr. Helmich was "a good friend" who was willing to offer a helping hand when needed, said Christina Camp of Camp's Deli & Market in Chenango Forks, where Mr. Helmich stopped almost every day.
"He was just a very kind person," Camp said.
Mr. Helmich knew down to the minute how long he had spent as a POW in Korea, Camp said. But he didn't seem to harbor bitterness. "He looked at it as that's the way war is," Camp said.
After his discharge from the Army, Mr. Helmich enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He worked at various jobs over the years, including 17 years with Mincolla Distributing Co. Inc.
After Mr. Helmich's death, the family found a scrapbook in his home filled with newspaper clippings from his time as a prisoner of war. His mother had collected and saved the clippings.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday
at the William R. Chase & Son Funeral Home, 737 Chenango St., Pork
Dickinson. Friends can call at the funeral home Sunday from noon until
the time of the service. Memorial contributions can be made to the Lourdes
Hospice, 169 Riverside Dr., Binghamton 13905