World War II veterans grow fewer, but these men, at 96, 99 and 101, still have stories to tell

Myron Petrakis, 101, holds a photo of himself at the age of 24 when he was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, at the Belmont Village senior living community, Nov. 7, 2023, in Carol Stream. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

More than 16 million Americans served in World War II, according to the National World War II Museum, and every one of them had a story.

In the nearly eight decades since this tidal wave of a war changed much of the world, their numbers have dwindled to fewer than 120,000.

The men who entered the military at age 18 in 1945, the last year of the war, are 96 years old now, and they are the youngest World War II veterans. Yet some — like Myron Petrakis, age 101, Nick Korompilas, age 99 and Bill Sims, age 96 — still show the mettle and strength that carried them through their grueling wartime missions.

These veterans of World War II and its immediate aftermath believe they were indeed members of “The Greatest Generation,” a tag popularized by newscaster Tom Brokaw.

“Yes,” said Petrakis, a dervish of activity as a centenarian like when he was a 23-year-old machinist’s mate on a minesweeper, before spending 60 years as a Norridge resident and historian. “We did what we had to do with dedication and patriotism.”

Park Ridge resident Korompilas, a pharmacist’s mate who had his destroyer sunk by kamikazes from under him, is blunt: “We fought for the country. We lost half a million. Millions were wounded.”

Gratitude envelops Park Ridge’s Sims, an Army veteran and junior member of the trio at 96: “Oh, yeah. I was proud to serve.” He appreciated gaining GI Bill rights to a college education.

Despite Korompilas having to hurriedly abandon ship pulling along a severely injured shipmate, the trio survived military service unscathed to enjoy long lives. After the war, they became part of the American middle class partially created by the war, while contributing to their communities.

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