Veterans History Project: John Colonias - - Jackson, MS


Veterans History Project: John Colonias

By Jennifer Martin

John Colonias witnessed the horrors of war when he was just a boy during the German occupation of Greece in 1941.

"It was terrible. I was only 13 years old.  People were dying in the streets during the occupation. There were dump trucks that would pick up the dead people. I'm not exaggerating."

Despite abject poverty and debilitating hunger, the Greeks did not lose their spirit. They fought back, killing the soldiers whenever they could.

"What the Germans would do: They would block streets and take all the people hostage and take them to a camp outside of Athens. And when a German soldier was shot, they'd take 25 of those men, indiscriminately, and shot them. You think that stopped us? It just accelerated it."

Colonias's father was a spy for the Greek underground. He was caught and executed. Colianas joined the resistance, buying guns from the Germans and getting them to the underground. He was accepted at the Greek military academy. He wanted to get an army commission so he could support his family.

When the Korean war began, he had no qualms about serving.  "Two of my best friends were drafted so when I found out, I said 'You can't go alone. I'm going with you'."

He was part of a reinforcement battalion in the Greek army. He worked alongside American troops, usually on the front lines, for about 7 months. Then he was reassigned as a liaison officer. He remembers the last day before his transfer.

"All of a sudden, I get the shakes. I look at my friend, I said, 'Let's get out of here and I grabbed him and pushed him over and 5 or 6 rounds fell just where I was 10 seconds earlier.  I had a guardian angel over my life."

He stayed in Korea about 5 months more before heading home.  "When I came home to Greece, it was too small."

He decided to spread his wings, and headed to America on a Fulbright Scholarship. He studied engineering at Oregon State and went on to get his PhD in nuclear physics at Stockholm University.

He taught at Berkeley more than 20 years and did highly classified work designing weapons for the Lawrence Livermore projects.

Colonias says the United States should make no apologies for making a strong military a high priority. "I believe this country has to maintain its strength because people are jealous of us."

He now is the head of the robotics department at Jackson State. He lives in Madison and has no plans to move again. "I love Mississippi. This is home for me."

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