World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient John Palko recently celebrated turning 96 with a drive-by birthday parade in front of his home in Texas.
The celebration was organized with the help of Janice ‘Monique’ Sklar, Palko’s social worker at Fort Worth VA Outpatient Clinic.
“I spoke to his neighbor and very good friend to see what we could do for Mr. Palko,” Sklar said in a VA blog post. “It was really a friend calling a friend calling a friend. One friend had a friend of a retired fire chief and then a birthday parade was put together with the fire department and the police department.”
One of those Sklar reached out to was social worker and POW advocate for VA North Texas Kris McGlathery, social worker and POW advocate for VA North Texas. McGlathery quickly started collecting birthday cards from employees at VA North Texas for Palko, who is one of 70 former POWs enrolled at VA North Texas.
On July 16, Palko was led to his front yard by his neighbor and good friend, Martha Garcia, to watch members of the city of Euless drive by with signs and balloons while they waved, honked their horns and yelled happy birthday to him.
“I can’t believe this, all of Euless was out here,” Palko said. “I kept looking and looking and there was no ending of cars.”
Garcia has become like family to Palko and helps look after him now that his wife of almost 73-years recently passed away.
“Today went perfect, more than perfect,” Garcia said. “It was overwhelming. He’s a good man, a very humble man. He reminds me of my father and he’s like father to me. I just love him and I love doing things for him.”
Palko received more than 50 cards from employees at VA North Texas, collected by McGlathery, that were given to him the day of the parade.
“This is so great; these cards are going to decorate my whole place,” he said. “This is the most cards I’ve ever gotten in my whole life. I’m going to have a lot of fun reading all of these.”
Palko was captured in France on Nov. 30, 1943, and was a POW for six months.
“All that was on my mind was am I going to live, get wounded or get killed,” Palko said of his time as a POW.. “That’s what was on my mind. I had three choices. That was it.”
With the help from Garica, Sklar and McGlathery and others at VA North Texas, today Palko receives care from VA North Texas Healthcare System.