Pen Pals for More Than 60 Years, WWII Veterans Linked by Deadly Ship Explosion Meet for First Time

It’s a historic meeting nearly 80 years in the making.

Late last week in an Evanston nursing home, two local WWII veterans associated with a deadly ship explosion off the coast of Japan met in person for the very first time.

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One of them, Myron Petrakis, is just shy of his 102nd birthday. The other, Marvin Elman, is 97. Family and friends were on hand to witness the historic moment.

“We made it,” said Petrakis, who eagerly shook Elman’s hand at the Dobson Plaza Nursing Home in Evanston, where Elman resides.

Elman served as a minesweeper during WWII on the USS Minivet AM 371. On Dec. 29, 1945, shortly after the war’s conclusion, the ship hit a mine off the coast of Okinawa and sunk in three minutes. Elman, who was grabbing a cup of coffee in the bow at the time, survived.

“The captain called up, ‘abandon ship,’ so my job was to go up and release the life rafts,” Elman recounted.

Elman said he jumped on a raft and was eventually rescued by a Japanese rowboat.

Petrakis served as a motor machinist on the USS Murrelet AM 372. He likes to say he was saved that day by the alphabet — as he barely missed the cutoff to board the AM 371.

“I was three names down,” Petrakis said. “I was eventually assigned to the 372. The 371 hit a mine on Dec. 29, 1945. Thirty-one of the crew were killed, along with my friend John Pate.”

Petrakis is a longtime former village official in Norridge, and his photograph is on display at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Petrakis reached out to Elman more than 60 years ago to gather more information on the downed ship. The two struck up a regular correspondence.

Read More: Local Veterans Honored in Photography Exhibit at O’Hare, Midway Airports

In recent months, after the death of his longtime wife, Elman moved to Dobson Plaza in Evanston, setting up the first face-to-face meeting between the two longtime friends.

“This gathering today is a happy one because I meet my friend Marvin,” Petrakis said. “It’s a sad one because we remember lost friends. I found Marvin, and he helped me. He’s my hero.”

This might be the first encounter between the two longtime friends and WWII veterans, but it’s likely not the last.

“I love him. What else is there?” Elman said. “Anything he wants, he can have.”

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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