By Derek Maul
Theodore “Ted” Dmetroshko may look a little young for a World War II veteran, but the 86-year-old Michigan native pulled it off by lying to the Army about his age and enlisting at 16.
Ted grew up in Detroit, where his parents settled after fleeing Russia in 1912. His father, a former Cossack, barely scraped out a living in the New World.
“He rode the horse and had all the gear,” Dmetroshko said. “But they had a difficult time. My dad worked for Ford Motor Company for 10-cents an hour. With six kids, my mother made soup every day. Cabbage soup, bean soup; once in a while chicken soup.”
Signing up for the US Army, he said, was the best thing he ever did. “$25 a month, a place to sleep, well fed, medical. It was good for a young man; kept me out of trouble. Plus my parents didn’t have to worry about me.”
Dmetroshko was sent to the Philippines, where he did clean-up work in Corregidor and then Bataan as a combat engineer.
Not long after returning to the States, the young GI was disappointed to find conditions in Detroit much the same. “There were no jobs around, so I said ‘Heck with this, I’m going back in the Army.”
Back in the Army meant Korea, where Dmetroshko was captured and spent 12 months as a POW in North Korea.
“It was difficult,” he said. “They’d stick bamboo sticks under my fingertips; talk about pain.”
Always ready to see the bright side, the former GI talked fondly of the month he spent in recovery after his release in an exchange. “They flew me to hospital in Japan; now that was good duty.”
“Always proud to wear the uniform,” Dmetroshko re-enlisted once again. In 1954 he was assigned to an Army hospital in Austria, where he served as a cook and met his future wife, Margaret.
“We married six months later,” he said. “We’d go out to dinner with two dictionaries, one English and one Austrian. She picked up a new language a lot faster than me.”
Later, Dmetroshko served two tours in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division (The Big Red One).
“We always say ‘If you’ve got to be one, be a Big Red One,’” he laughed.
Honorably discharged as a Sergeant First Class in 1976, Dmetroshko went on to work as a cafeteria manager in Virginia for 20 years. Margaret passed away in 1988, and in 1997 Theodore moved to Florida. He has two sons and four grandchildren.