Medals awarded 65 years later

Posted 8/23/10

Sixty-five years after his death, a war hero is getting recognition for his bravery and kindness. In his final months, Janetos Poulimenous endured …

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Medals awarded 65 years later


Sixty-five years after his death, a war hero is getting recognition for his bravery and kindness.

In his final months, Janetos Poulimenous endured torture and starvation at the hand of the enemy. He died on a Japanese prisoner ship in October 1944, his body unceremoniously tossed into the sea. But a story about his generosity and selflessness during his time in captivity has emerged to inspire a new generation.

Poulimenous, who emigrated from Greece to the United States in 1932 and joined the Army during World War II, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star — two of the highest military distinctions — during a ceremony Aug. 19 at U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s office in Lone Tree.

It was last fall when Coffman’s office received a call from Thomas Kallos, the nephew of Pfc. Poulimenous and a Highlands Ranch resident. He was seeking closure for his uncle’s sacrifice. Kallos, now 82, was a teen when his uncle left for the war, and he considered him to be “more like a big brother.” Poulimenous was a humble, low-key man who worked hard and had a positive influence on his nieces and nephews, he said.

Staff members at Coffman’s office began gathering information from the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo., and uncovered several never-before-seen documents.

General George C. Marshall ordered in 1947 that every man and woman who served in the Phillipine defense between Dec. 7, 1941, to May 1942 be awarded the Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster. Poulimenous, who was known to family members and comrades as Jerry, earned more honors during his service, including the POW Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and a Presidential Unit Citation. A recent directive from the U.S. Department of Defense entitles POWs to the Purple Heart, and Poulimenous received his with two oak clusters. Kallos will display the medals in a shadow bow at his Highlands Ranch home.

As detailed in a letter sent by fellow POW and Greek national Jim Argeanas, Poulimenous went above and beyond to ensure the safety of his friends. Poulimenous was a cook who ran through enemy fire to deliver food to men on the front lines. He was captured in April 1942 when the Japanese invaded the Phillipines, and survived several days in the Bataan Death March. By the end, less than half of the men taken prisoner would survive.

Argeanas was assigned to work in the mess hall, and when Poulimenous contracted malaria, dysentery and lost his sight for a few months because of a vitamin deficiency, Argeanas sneaked extra food to the ailing soldier. He recovered by the end of the year, but Argeanas came down with the same illnesses, and this time it was Poulimenous and a few other Greek-American POWs who kept him alive for seven months.

“I will ever be grateful to them for this loyalty,” Argeanas said in the letter to Poulimenous’ family dated Nov. 13, 1946, about a year after the war ended.

The men lived through daily beatings and survived on a few cups of rice, grasshoppers, reptiles, and small amounts of water. After being held in a prisoner camp in Las Pinas, the men were loaded onto small ships bound for Japan that were later bombarded by American pilots who were unaware the ships contained allied POWs. Many of them were sunk, but the men on Poulimenous’ cramped boat survived the bombings.

“We stood for about 30 days as we were unable to sit because of the crowded conditions,” Argeanas said in the letter.

They were given one teaspoon of water per day, and slowly, the men, including Poulimenous, succumbed to dehydration. Argeanas landed in Japan, and barely survived his ordeal before his camp was liberated in August 1945.

The veteran recalled memories of Poulimenous in the letter to his family, saying he talked about showing off his nieces and nephews around town.

“At times, his greatest desire was to slip in home and surprise you and then again he wanted the best band in the country to meet him and welcome him home,” Argeanas said. He said Poulimenous was a “brave soldier and proud of the part he had done for his country.”

When asked what he hopes people will take from his uncle’s story, Kallos responds with one word: courage.

“That’s the true nature of a man,” he said. “You don’t judge a man by his wealth or position in the community, you judge him on how he reacts to adverse conditions.”

Kallos thanked Coffman and his aide, Myron Spanier, for working diligently for 10 months to secure the long overdue medals. He hopes his family’s story will encourage others to pursue military medals for their lost loved ones.

“Get them recognition for what they did,” he said.” It might take a lot of digging…. but a man is immortal if you remember his name.”


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