Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Ted Pallas, 85, holds the photo of him, the first of an American soldier in the Korean War.
July 27 marks the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War. Sometimes called the “Forgotten War,” it was a life-changing experience for Ted Pallas, of San Bruno.
Fighting for the United States, Pallas, 85 spent almost his entire in Korea as a prisoner of war by China, who was stationed in Korea at the time. Pallas, a San Francisco native, was the first U.S. soldier photographed in the war by fellow POW and Associated Press photographer Frank Noel.
“I give myself a pat on the back because I’m a survivor,” Pallas said, an employee of Chevron — formerly Standard Oil — until 1985.
Pallas said his time in Korea has affected him throughout the years. He was just 22 went he was drafted into the war in 1951 and returned home in August of 1953. He said he adjusted well when he returned to the states, but was left with no left toes, a bullet that still remains in his knee today, a lost index finger and a buzzing noise left from a concussion still rings in his head.
“As a former POW who lived with death scenes and seizures, when you lose family, you anticipate it and your mind goes back to then,” Pallas said. “I go onto post-traumatic stress. It puts stress on you.”
Pallas said putting down his thoughts on paper has helped him cope with the trauma his faced while away in Korea. He said his main reason for pushing to survive was because he didn’t want his mother Irene to go through more loss since he had seen the effects of his father’s death on her. Pallas did return home 78 pounds lighter.
“Talking about being a POW when I first came home was very tough,” Pallas said. “My close friends would break down hearing me, so a few years back I wrote a memoir and that helped me get things out. I didn’t want to write too much of the hardships though.”
In organizations he’s joined, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars USA, he said he finds he is the only POW. He said his unique position makes it hard to find others with which to relate.
On Nov. 7, 1951, Pallas’ job was to observe the enemy’s forts. When an attack came, he and his group were told to leave the hill. When he noticed a couple of his friends were missing, he went back to looking for them, but was shot in the legs. He approached the bunkers and a grenade was thrown at him and the troops. Pallas said he caught the grenade and threw it back, but the explosion took off his right index finger. This began his stint as a POW.
Pallas, a father to two stepsons, said he kept in contact with the people he served with in Korea up until last year.
“You have things happening with family,” Pallas said. “My wife Irma has Parkinson’s now.”
Irma and Ted will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, just 10 days after Ted’s 85th birthday.
Pallas emphasizes that he was drafted into the military.
“I say a person who enlists loves war, while a person who is drafted hates war,” Pallas said he told his captors. “When I got home I was treated differently than other soldiers because I wasn’t a regular army person — I was drafted. I was treated more like more of a normal vet once a general wrote a letter vouching for me.”
Pallas also touched upon the fact that the Korean War is known as the “Forgotten War.”
“Korea, never heard of it. But got there in spite of it ... I remember the wars in Bosnia, Vietnam and World War II, I remember the war in Korea, too, do you?” Pallas wrote in a poem entitled “I Remember Korea.”
Pallas worries about recent war veterans today who he said are not getting the credit or compensation they deserve.
“They’re treated poorly even though they’ve made huge sacrifices,” Pallas said. “Thousands are waiting at VA hospitals for treatment. As a 100 percent disabled vet myself, I’ve had others call me a freeloader for using veteran benefits.”
He is wary of American wars.
“We really can’t be the 911 for the rest of the world; we could be destroying our country,” Pallas said. “People aren’t appreciating what we’re doing. The economy is going busted and we need to take care of what’s ours first. Why are we the only country fighting for other countries?”
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