San Bruno Resident TED PALLAS reports on the Korean War

South San Francisco, CA August 30, 2013

I Remember KoreaKorean Vet POW Ted Pallas

By Ted Pallas

Korea? Never heard of it.
But got there in spite of it.
I remember being told, that
It was a “Police Action,”
“No Big Deal!”
There should have been a retraction,
Because the fighting was real.
I remember the flares,
The men, with their wide-eyed stares.
I remember the shooting, going on everywhere,
The men lying there.
“We will be home by Christmas,” I was told,
Never knew winters could be so cold.
I remember the march to POW Camp #5
Praying to make it out of there alive.
I remember the crying, the dying.
I remember the men, who lay still,
Beneath the soil of “Boot Hill.”
I remember coming home to the cheers,
From everyone, with eyes full of tears.
I remember, it won’t go away,
Because of Korea, I’m a life-time member of the V.A.
I remember the wars in Bosnia, Vietnam and World War II,
I remember the war in Korea, too.
Do You? ”


The following article is re-printed from the Peninsula Progress newspaper

Front Page - August 2013 Late Edition - Vol. 2, No. 9

60 years later, San Bruno resident reports on the Korean War battlefield

By Jean Bartlett, Arts and Features Writer

In late January of 1952, citizens all over the nation opened up their morning papers to find a photograph of U.S. soldier Theodore Michael Pallas, “Captive of the Communists in North Korea,” receiving medical treatment for wounds to his right hand. The picture also ran in Life Magazine, Look Magazine, and Pageant Magazine, as well as other publications all over the world.

The photograph was taken by Associated Press photographer, Frank Noel. Noel, also a POW, was captured with a small group of Marines on November 29, 1950, near Koto, North Korea. In a later interview, Noel reported that on January 13, 1952, he thought he was being taken to the “hole” for being a reactionary, someone who wouldn’t collaborate with the enemy. Instead he was given a camera by his captors, and told to photograph the wounded men in the hospital. The photographs were turned over to the AP at Panmunjom, located on the de facto border between North and South Korea. When that picture was seen by Irene Pallas of San Francisco, she cried. This was the first time she knew that her son, Ted, reported missing in action in Korea on November 7, 1951, was alive. Ted’s four brothers wept, too.

???The family was almost told that Ted was killed in action. During the battle where Pallas was wounded, his dog tags tumbled onto a fallen soldier – a friend, a young man in Ted’s outfit. The lost warrior was carried from where he fell, with those tags. Later, another soldier would correctly identify the young man. Pallas would learn this after the War.

“His name was Don,” Pallas said. “He was 19 years old. I remember asking him, why did he enlist? And he said, because when he was my age (Pallas was 23), he wanted the War to be behind him. And I told him that war does not ask anybody their age.”

Pallas is 85 now. He lives in San Bruno with Irma, his wife of 47 years. “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. He is the proud stepdad of Leonard Jaymot and Frank Jaymot, whom he considers sons. But as our nation recognizes the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, July 27, 1953, Ted finds he is full of reflection and some anger still resonates around his days as a POW. “How can you forgive what you can’t forget?” he said.

Born in San Francisco, Ted is the fourth of five sons born to Michael and Irene Pallas, both Greek. His oldest brother, Chris, who served as a longtime San Bruno councilman, was born in 1924, brother Harry in 1926, Andrew in 1927, Ted in 1928 and Gus in 1931. “Chris and Harry are still here, Andy died two years ago, and we lost Gus in 1991 at age 60.”

The family’s first home in San Francisco was South of Market, where Moscone Center is now. Michael Pallas was a barber and he gave George Christopher, the future 34th Mayor of San Francisco, his first haircut. In 1933, the family moved to a flat on Naples in the Excelsior District, then to Munich Street in 1935. In the latter part of ’35, Michael Pallas was diagnosed with cancer. He died on February 2, 1936. His youngest son Gus was in the hospital during that time with tuberculosis. It was a hard time. But eldest son Chris immediately got to work delivering papers, and as each son became old enough to handle a long route, along with selling papers in front of theaters and cable cars, the family stayed steady on their feet.

“We sold papers at night and in the morning,” Pallas said. “My mother was from the old country, and her English was broken, but she knew how to handle money. We sold papers, until my brothers were drafted. I used to sell papers in front of the El Rey Theater. We all worked so my mother could run the household and in 1944, she had enough money, $2,000, to make a down payment on a house on Pope Street.”

Ted’s brother Andy was a doorman at the Granada Theater until he joined the Navy, then Ted took the job. Ted stayed there for a few years after he graduated from Balboa High School, then he went to work for Standard Oil (Chevron). He met his future wife at Chevron in 1948.

“She worked in the typing department and I had my eye on her,” Pallas recalls with a smile. “Then this woman comes over to me and says, ‘she’s engaged.'” Pallas gave up on pursuing her, and Irma married her fiancé.

Pallas said that once World War II ended, nobody thought a war in Korea would happen. But that all changed on June 25, 1950, when Kim II Sung, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, led a well-armed and well-trained North Korean army across the 38th parallel, the dividing line between Soviet occupied North Korea and U.S. occupied South Korea. On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced the United States would intervene in the Korean conflict to, “stem the spread of communism.” On June 28, the United Nations approved the use of force against communist North Korea. The U.S.-led UN coalition would include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and the U.S.

“In January of 1951, I was with my buddies at a bar, and they had all gotten their Draft Notices,” Pallas recalled. “But I told them, ‘well, I haven’t.’ I go home and my Draft Notice is waiting for me. I had to report to the Armed Forces Induction Station, in the Presidio, on January 16, 1951, and from there I went to Fort Ord.”

Pallas’s friends were shipped overseas right after training, but Pallas had to remain behind due to a case of chicken pox. Once he recovered, he shipped out. He was assigned to the survey section of the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Army Division.

“We moved with the infantry,” Pallas explained. “One of our responsibilities was to set up a look-out post called a ‘Flash Base.’ Generally two stations are set up at separate sites. The purpose is to take a reading of the enemy’s artillery ‘flash’ as they are fired. Where the readings crossed, was where the enemy artillery was located. We would radio that to the FDC (Fire Direction Center), who would then have our artillery units fire on the reported enemy location.”

It was 2:30 am on Wednesday, November 7, 1951, when the North Korean and Chinese forces set off a warning, advising the 24th Division, there in support of Columbian troops, that an attack was imminent.

“The Chinese would give you a warning that they were going to attack,” Pallas said. “They used flares or a bugle. The purpose was to put a scare into you.”

“We had set up one of our stations with the Colombians on top of the ‘Hill,'” Pallas continued. “The other was set up with the 21st Infantry Regiment. Since we knew we were going to be attacked, our group was supposed to come out. We were not supposed to do any fighting because we weren’t the infantry. We were just taking azimuth readings of the location of the enemy’s weapons.”

Pallas said to the Colombians, “Come on! Let’s go!” and moved down the “Hill.” He said he was especially in a hurry because he had to go to the bathroom. But when he got down from the “Hill,” none of the Columbians were with him, so he went back up.

The first bullet went right through his knee but he kept going. As he arrived at the bunker of his fellow soldiers, one of the enemy soldiers tossed a concussion grenade. A concussion grenade is a hand grenade, designed to produce casualties during close combat while minimizing danger to friendly personnel. Pallas caught that grenade and tossed it back. The explosion knocked him out, and also nearly severed his right index finger. When Pallas came to, the enemy was right there, and they shot at him. They took his boots off and put a grenade on his foot which blasted several of his toes off. Nearing daylight, another enemy soldier stopped to look at Pallas’s watch. Pallas expressed, “Do you want it?” and gave it to the man. The soldier took it and threw Pallas off the side of the “Hill.” (When Pallas returned home, he learned that our side retook the “Hill” between 7:30 am and 8:30 am. He also learned that all his buddies were killed.)

Ted crawled over to a pile of ammunition, and right about then, North Korean kids, probably no more than 12 to 15, took their empty rifles and pointed them at his head. They would fire and laugh. A Chinese soldier yelled at them and then carried Ted piggyback, over to the other side of the “Hill,” where a North Korean officer began kicking and spitting on Ted, and butting him in the small of his back with a rifle. The North Korean officer was stopped by a Chinese officer.

“The North Koreans did not want to take prisoners but the Chinese were okay with taking prisoners,” Pallas said. By that point in time, Ted’s upper front teeth were broken, he had blood coming out of both ears and he could hear ringing, an ailment he still has to this day. All told, he was shot 8 times.

“It turns out the Chinese officer spoke perfect English,” Pallas said. “He had attended the University of Illinois. He told me he was going to give me a Safe Pass, so that I could be taken to a POW camp. He also told me that I should never tell any of my captors what I did on the ‘Hill,’ regarding throwing that concussion grenade.”

Pallas was given two branches for canes, padded tennis shoes, and then he was told to march with his captors. When they stopped in villages, he would lie down, and villagers would spit on him. At one of the villages, there was a hospital with wounded North Koreans and Chinese. Ted was brought in.

“A doctor saw that my index finger was only attached by a small piece of skin, and he snipped it off, just below the second joint, near the knuckle,” Pallas said. “That didn’t hurt. But then he let me know that the rest of the finger, which was an open wound, would have to be snipped off right down to the knuckle. The doctor called in five soldiers, one sat on top of me, two stood at either side, and two at my feet. They turned my head and using the largest pair of scissors I have ever seen in my life, the doctor cut the rest of my finger off, with no anesthetic. That pain was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt and I told myself I would never go through anything like that ever again. When I came back to the States, they fixed it up, because the nerve was too close.”

The next day Pallas walked to another village, where he was left alone on a straw mat on a dirt floor. The water in his canteen was frozen and he was shaking all over. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he started thinking of his family, his mother who was widowed with five young boys, his three brothers who served in and survived World War II, and his youngest brother, who was too young to be drafted.

“I didn’t know if they even knew I was alive but I decided I would not leave them and then I thought of the POW Prayer. I couldn’t remember its exact words, so I used my own and it gave me hope – How well I know Lord / That You share and understand my sorrow. / It will give me comfort for today / And good courage for tomorrow. / And for some reason I don’t survive, / The cold and snowy season, / This toil and strife / That may take my life, / Please Lord, clasp my hand / And take me to that promised land. / Thank You Lord – Now I’m not afraid.”

“The next day I was taken to another village where there were a couple of other GIs,” Pallas continued. “And we were given noodles which the other GIs didn’t like. They were newer captives and still had that “good old” Army food in them. But I ate almost all of it and it was satisfying!”

In better spirits, Pallas was having a harder and harder time walking. It was bitterly cold. The ground was deep with snow and his feet felt like frozen blocks of ice. But he didn’t stop, because he knew what happened to prisoners who could not keep up. Finally they made it to trucks and were taken to the POW Camp. Pallas was taken to the sick compound. It was December 10. By then Ted’s hand was loaded with infection and his severely wounded foot was now frostbitten. Both wounds were covered in maggots, which in the end saved his foot. It kept the gangrene from setting in. Pallas lost the remainder of his toes on his left foot to frostbite, but not his foot. It was at this hospital that the wounded POW was photographed by the AP photographer.

Pallas, who has written his memoir, does not want to share all that happened to him during his time in North Korea–he doesn’t even share it in his memoir.

“When I first came home, I would talk to my friends about my experiences and a lot of them would break down,” Pallas said. “So, I got away from it. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I figured I should write my memoir, and I started writing it. It helped me. It relieved me quite a bit, because I was able to get it out of my mind, not totally out of my mind, but express some of what I felt inside. When I put it in print, I had friends and family that would read it, and many of the guys, tough guys, they would break down. You don’t really realize that when a person is wounded in a battle, if he stays on his side, he has a better chance of recovery. But if he is shot by the enemy, it’s basically up to you to decide, ‘I want to recover.'”

The 6-foot Pallas, who arrived in Korea weighing 200 pounds, went down to 122 pounds in captivity. Dysentery, diarrhea, lice, weight loss were regular occurrences among most of the men. Death came from starvation, disease, and wounds, and what some soldiers called, “give-up-itis.” Pallas said 7,170 Americans were captured by the enemy, and 2,701 of those men died while they were prisoners of war.

Pallas was in the Camp hospital until April. Then he was released to Camp 5, at Pyoktong, which was later the location of the infamous Camp Olympics, a Communist propaganda exercise which was photographed and reported on, and delivered to world papers as an explanation of the excellent care being given to POWs. Pallas was considered a reactionary by the “Head Honcho,” because he would not sign papers, no matter how many times they brought them to him, that stated he was receiving excellent care as a prisoner of war.

But there were fellow prisoners who were collaborators, called “progressives.” They would be the ones gaining weight, while others were dying of starvation. One of them was known as “Slick,” and there was a time, and a reason, when Pallas beat Slick within an inch of his life. Pallas was put in jail for that and released when “Slick” was released from the hospital.

“With post-traumatic stress, I used to think on some of these soldiers who were progressives and know, that if I had had a weapon, I would have killed them,” Pallas said. “Because they did everything they could to survive by squealing. Because I was a reactionary, and would not sign any propaganda, when they began to repatriate POWs in April of 1953, they would have me stand by the Yula River, to watch while these boats with progressives were coming down. Because these guys were going to be put on ships to be the first ones home. Whereas the sick and wounded who wouldn’t collaborate, they were left there in the camps a while longer.”

Pallas was released from the POW Camp on the 11th of August, 1953. It took about two weeks to get home and he was greeted with a hero’s welcome, which most importantly included his mom and his brothers being there to hug him tightly. One of the neighborhood bars, Club Algiers, had a big sign for Ted welcoming him home, and they served free drinks for three hours and the club was packed.

Ted is quiet about the recognition he received for serving his country in the Korean War. But included among those recognitions for Theodore Pallas, CPL. 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Army Division, Korean War, are the Purple Heart, the Freedom Medal, the Korean Medal, and a letter from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, thanking and praising Pallas for his service.

Following his return, Pallas went back to his former job at Chevron, and stayed with them until he retired in 1985. He said when he first came back, he broke a lot of hearts until he and Irma, who was divorced with two young sons, met up again in 1965. They married on July 30, 1966.

“I was a prisoner of war,” Pallas said. “But I became a prisoner of love.”

As a caregiver now for Irma, who has Parkinson’s, Ted said he is grateful for his experiences in Korea because his compensation from being a POW has enabled him to financially care for Irma, a privilege he said, which is his number one priority.

It saddens him that many people know nothing about the Korean War. But he has relaxed his views on the Korean War “progressives,” understanding that people have different ideas of what they need to do to live, to see their families again. He is dedicating this article to all the “Warriors of the Korean War”.

* * * * * *

(Jean Bartlett is additionally the Arts and Features Correspondent for the Pacifica Tribune.)

3 comments for “San Bruno Resident TED PALLAS reports on the Korean War

  1. Christine Vozikes
    August 31, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Ted, your story moved me to tears! You are a survivor in the true sense of the word! May God bless you always.


  2. Joe Maffei
    March 29, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Ted, I have known you most of my life. I knew you as a kid through my mom Kitty. Years later as a young man I worked at chevron with you also. I always knew the finger was lost in Korea. Knew you had been a POW. Never knew until reading this just how bad it was. Something you just never really talked about. I’m glad you finally got it out, glad your at peace with the progressives…although…kitty did tell me a few of the stories how ya’ll dealt with some of them.

    Wish I had known more sooner.

    Joe Maffei

  3. Lew Smith... old Chevron buddy
    April 30, 2014 at 8:41 am

    We had some great year’s working together. I think of you often. Just ran across this article. Your a real hero in my book. God bless you and your family.

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