MUKWONAGO - A charming man with salt and pepper hair and a light blue polo shirt shows off his Mukwonago VFW Post uniform. The crisp white shirt has ribbons from his time in service.
James 'Jim' Pallan is a Korean War veteran and Mukwonago resident who went on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight in early April.
Pallan enlisted in the Air Force in 1953 and served four years. He then went into the army national guard and later moved into the air national guard.
In the Korean War, he participated in air rescue by helicopter to pick up downed pilots and evacuate the injured to hospitals.
"I thought I was doing a good thing," Pallan said.
It was a good thing indeed. He has eight medals and 13 ribbons from his time in the war.
The decorated veteran comes from a family of brave men who served their country. Pallan's father served in the Navy during World War II and his three brothers also are veterans.
After being laid off from an automotive manufacturer, he and a buddy went to the enlistment center. After basic training, his friend went to France and Pallan was assigned to Korea after helicopter school.
Pallan recalled being handed a tool box and a tech order publication that explained how to fix things.
His first rescue mission was a person who stepped on a landmine and sustained injuries to his stomach.
"I've never seen anything like that before," he said.
Always on the move
Pallan never saw the people he rescued after he would drop them off. The injured were taken to an evacuation hospital outside of Seoul and then flown to Japan if major surgery was needed. For Pallan, it was on to the next job.
"The thing was, I was never at my home base for more than a week or until I finished maintenance," Pallan said. He served at Kunsan and Osan air bases.
Pallan flew in cloak and dagger missions where intelligence was gathered. Pallan said he took undercover people up to see what kind of supplies North Korea was getting. Armed covert personnel were offloaded on the side of a mountain, with the helicopter perched on one wheel on the mountainside.
"I tell you it was hairy — on mountains you have different kinds of wind, " Pallan said.
Pallan said he served 13 months overseas. He shipped a helicopter over to Formosa — now Taiwan — because of a possible conflict between mainland china and the island.
"I was on a Chinese base, no facilities for an American GI, so they put me up in a hostel in town," Pallan said. He had to take a rickshaw back and forth for 40 days, they only flew for five hours at a time because of the heat.
Pallan had to travel on the narrow gauge railway to Taipei to get paid; the Chinese didn't want to give them gas for the helicopter.
Pallan said he looked odd to people, as they never saw an American GI before and would spit on him and his crew.
"If a nationalist person witnessed it they would take the person to the side and beat the living daylights out of them. They were honored to see us there," he said.
Pallan remembered being AWOL for a short period of time, but not on purpose.
A colonel "asked me why I was still over seas, I wasn't relieved yet," he said.
Pallan was told he was AWOL back in the states. He had 24 hours to rush over to Korea to check out and fly back to the states.
He made it.
Flying with "Barb"
On his kitchen table Pallan showed black and white photos of a younger Pallan next to his aircraft. On the helicopter, "Barb" is painted for his girlfriend and later wife. Pallan married his beloved Barbara after coming back from Korea.
The couple has two children and three grandchildren.
The aircraft was big enough to fit eight fully packed soldiers with gear, and four stretchers. Also on board were a medic and two pilots.
In Korea, there was nothing but open wide land and no worries about flying into telephone lines.
"We were flying by the seat of our pants," Pallan said.
The pilots on board were rookies and liked to fly at excessive speeds. One time the crew was riding alongside a railroad track and there was an old coal locomotive.
"We started racing it and we could see the guy shoveling that coal to get more steam," he said.
Pallan also remembered the hoist on the helicopter and how the crew would practice retrieving downed pilots in life rafts. Most of his time was spent on the Yellow Sea in Korea.
During a practice run, the medic was on a life raft and he wasn't looking up. The weight on the hoist bonked him on the head, knocking him out.
"I had to go back down and get him," Pallan said.
As Pallan reminisced about his time in Korea, his voice suddenly trembled.
"The responsibility put on me in Korea was really something," he said.
A new level of respect
James Pallan loved going to D.C. with his son Scott during the honor flight. He especially loved the police escort and the war memorials.
Scott Pallan learned more about his father's service in Korea during that one day than he knew his entire life.
"It was truly the trip of a lifetime and an experience that I will never be able to recreate. My dad and I were close before this trip, but we now share an extra special bond from this trip," Scott Pallan said.