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Penpals for 64 years, Evanston and Norridge World War II vets finally meet – Chicago Tribune

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They became regular pen pals in 1960, and 64 years later, on March 28, 2024, the two World War II veterans finally met in person.

It was possible, however, these two United States Navy sailors named Myron Petrakis and Marvin Elfman bumped into each other while in 1940s naval training before being assigned to separate minesweeper vessels.

Petrakis, 101, of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge for about six decades, and Elfman, 97, of Evanston, formerly of Walkersville, Maryland, both wore caps on March 28 at an Evanston celebration. Each hat indicated the names of their respective minesweepers, vessels that carried a high fatality rate for those assigned to them.

Petrakis is due to turn 102 this week, on April 6.

Elfman was assigned to the USS Minivet AM-371 minesweeper and Petrakis was a motor machinist on the USS Murrelet AM-372 minesweeper. The minesweeper vessels were used then to identify mines near Japan post-World War II.

Elfman was a storekeeper third class. Both served from 1944 to 1946.

Petrakis wondered what happened to his friend and sailor John Pate, whom Petrakis met during training. He contacted Elfman in 1960 after trying since World War II to verify Pate’s whereabouts.

Petrakis and Pate were three “P” letter last names apart on a roster. Chance had the roster assigning Petrakis to the Murrelet and Pate to the Minivet, the same Minivet minesweeper that Marvin Elfman sailed.

“Everywhere we went, we went by the roster, alphabetical order,” Petrakis said at a Thursday morning gathering in a sunlit indoor atrium at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation, 120 Dodge Ave., where Elfman resides.

“When we finished training and we were assigned to the fleet, again we were assigned by the roster,” Petrakis said.

“The 371 hit a mine on Dec. 29, 1945.

“Thirty one of the crew were killed along with my friend Pate,” Petrakis said.

John Pate is presumed dead. See http://ussminivet.net/memoriam.htm.

Petrakis found Elfman after reading about how Elfman’s life was saved by a cup of coffee at the end of a shift.

From left, Myron Petrakis of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge, shows delights upon greeting his friend Marvin Elfman of Evanston on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation (120 Dodge Ave.) in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)
From left, Myron Petrakis of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge, shows delight upon greeting his friend Marvin Elfman of Evanston on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation  in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)

Elfman was taking a coffee break when the USS Minivet hit a mine. The explosion created a hole where Elfman had just been. He secured lifeboats for shipmates as the USS Minivet rapidly sank.

It was Elfman who told Petrakis via phone that John Pate had been killed.

Decades later, Petrakis, a retired mechanical engineer, planned the March 28 event by himself.

“This gathering today is a happy one that I meet my friend Marvin,” Petrakis said.

From left, Myron Petrakis of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge, spends time with Marvin Elfman of Evanston on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation (120 Dodge Ave.) in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)
From left, Myron Petrakis of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge, age 101, spends time with Marvin Elfman of Evanston, 97, on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)

“It’s a sad one because it brings back memories of our lost friends.

“I found Marvin and he helped me,” Petrakis added. “He’s my hero.”

The two men then saluted each other.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t like us,” Elfman said when asked why he shares his story.

Right, Myron Petrakis of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge, shows delights upon greeting his friend (on left) Marvin Elfman of Evanston on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation (120 Dodge Ave.) in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)
Myron Petrakis of Carol Stream, formerly of Norridge, age 101, organized an event to greet his penpal friend Marvin Elfman of Evanston on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation  in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)

“They should know what we do.”

Petrakis said, “The motto of the guys was, ‘Tell your mother to put up the Gold Star in the window, your son is assigned to the minesweeper.’”

In the World War II years, parents displayed a gold star in their home’s window if a child of theirs had been killed serving their country.

“It was very, very hazardous,” Petrakis said. “The minesweepers are there before the fleet gets there.

“We still remember. We served. We did our duty. We’re proud of our service,” Petrakis said.

Friends and family attended including the Norridge Police Honor Guard and Norridge Village President Dan Tannhauser.

Marvin Elfman of Evanston holds a photo on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)
Marvin Elfman of Evanston holds a photo on March 28, 2024 at Dobson Plaza Healthcare & Rehabilitation in Evanston. (Karie Angell Luc/for the Pioneer Press)

“It’s great for Norridge,” Tannhauser said about the example set by Petrakis.

“I look at it as a big family,” said Norridge Police Sergeant Nicholas Rice about honoring veterans.

Petrakis, a Norridge historian, established the Norridge Veterans & Village Museum at the Estelle Sieb Community Center, 7774 W. Irving Park Road, in Norridge.

Petrakis served on the Norridge Board of Fire and Police Commissioners for 55 years and was grand marshal at the Community Parade last Aug. 26 when Norridge celebrated its 75th birthday.

Petrakis also launched the KIA Memorial installation at Ridgewood High School. The memorial honors three RHS students who were killed in action (KIA) during Vietnam military service.

Months after the KIA Memorial was ceremoniously dedicated on Nov. 16, 2015, the mounted top glass pane cracked. LED lighting illuminated an American flag.

The first fracture was noticed on May 26, 2016. The glass shattered shortly after and was tossed. Repair estimates then were $26,000 plus.

Fundraisers ensued for repairs but the memorial’s black granite-faced cement base remains with no glass top in an outdoor interior school courtyard. People have complained it looks like a cemetery headstone.

Thomas Parrillo, RHS District 234 assistant superintendent of finance and operations said, “We are in the phase of raising funds,” indicating the COVID-19 pandemic halted public fundraising but there was, as of March 28, “an accumulated balance total of $20,309.41 in funds for the repair.”

He added, “Our activity account is with Parkway Bank, Harwood Heights.”  Donations are accepted at https://ridgenet.revtrak.net/hs-kia/.

The memorial names U.S. Marine CPL Donald Warren Bollman (Class of 1964), U.S. Marine PFC Neil Joseph Cacciottolo (Class of 1965) and U.S. Army SP4 James Chris Shukas (Class of 1966).

“I started it and I didn’t finish it,” Petrakis said.

“I am very much concerned.”

Regarding the KIA Memorial repair, Tannhauser said he “guaranteed it’ll get done.

“It’ll get done,” Tannhauser added. “Promise, I personally will.”



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