March 15, 2015

Oaths of Allegiance


The Good Doc and I took 98 year old WWII War Hero Peter Poulos out for breakfast Saturday morning.
Pete had the Spartan omelet...and barely touched it as you might guess.

Once upon a time an American man over the course of his life took two solemn oaths. The first one ended with "So Help Me God" as the young man raised his right hand and repeated the words from a United States Military officer to take up arms and defend his country.  The other oath ends with "I do" preceded by a clergyman saying "til death do you part".


Pete spearheaded the campaign to establish this memorial for Greek-American soldiers.

I once again had the high honor of breaking bread with the Den's favorite soldier, Peter Poulos, age 98 who fought in the Pacific Theatre during World War II encountering some of the fiercest fighting of the war getting wounded 3 times, once by bayonet in hand to hand combat, all while having a bad case of malaria.  The next time I have a bad day, I'll keep it in the context of how it compares to a Pete Poulos bad day.
The quote reads: "Until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes. Now we shall say:'The Heroes fight like Greeks'".   Winston Churchill
As you may recall, Pete made a cameo appearance at my belated birthday hosted by The Docs with my best friend, The Good Doctor, presiding. When I lived in a riverfront high-rise during the '90s, our building was about 30% young doctors doing their residency or fellowship at one of the many nearby hospitals. I became friends with many of them and we hosted a popular Christmas party famous for the midnight fruit toss when we'd heave oranges off my 37th Floor balcony hoping to land one on the South bank. GSL had an arm more known for accuracy than strength yet always made a crowd pleasing splash just shy of the halfway point with his earnest declaration that "that damn sudden burst of headwind got it".

The Poulos boys answered The Call of the Bugle.


Of those many physicians I knew, only one chose a career in the far less prestigious career track of Veterans Administration (VA) hospital care.  It is commonly known that this is where the least talented doctors wind up which pissed off my friend who thought those who served our country deserve the very best care our country can provide forgoing far more prestigious and lucrative opportunities elsewhere. He does come from a wealthy family but knowing him as I do that wouldn't have altered his choice one bit. He has been fighting an uphill battle the last 20 years bringing much needed reforms to the VA system and the very best medical care to the many Veterans he treats. About 15 years ago, he became Pete's primary care physician and Pete is deeply touched at having such a talented and devoted doctor looking after him. He refers to The Good Doctor as "my hero".  I agree with Pete's assessment of The Good Doctor as after filling in for a colleague whose wife just had a baby, he pulled a 24 hour call shift in the emergency room then drove 5 hours to Fort Knox to stand next to my mother, 'Estella', and her father at my boot camp graduation back in 2006.

This pic is from 2003 when The Good Doctor had Pete greet President Bush when he landed in Chicago's Grant Park aboard Marine 1.. Pete is very proud of this pic and had a copy made along with the very nice letter President Bush sent him and presented them to me at breakfast.


The Good Doctor came across Pete at the Hines VA hospital where Pete has volunteered 3 days a week for the past 32 years.  Here is that same charming TV interview from my last Pistol Pete post .  Pete was born in Tripoli, Greece and his family emigrated to Chicago after his mother died in the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 when Pete was just a boy of 3.  They settled in the Elmwood Park neighborhood of Chicago with it's many Greeks and Italians.

This is Pete's oldest brother Nick's fresh grave awaiting warm weather and sod. Nick was Pete's
favorite brother and made it to 103.

Pete stayed in school until 8th grade as his remarried father wanted him to quit and go to work to help support the family. Pete worked hard laying cable for the electric company til WWII rolled around and he enlisted and saw heavy action in the South Pacific until his wounds and malaria required him going on light duty as part of General MacArthur's personal security detail. For his wartime heroism and the high and mighty that sang his praises, Pete was given the plum assignment of being appointed the Gold Coast's mailman where Frank Sinatra always insisted someone fetch "The Greek" to join him for coffee at The Pump Room and Hugh Hefner always told Pete to make himself at home in the original Playboy Mansion.

This is where Pete's wife Julie is buried. Pete has been here every day since the day she died.


Soon after Pete got back from the war, one hot summer day he walked into a soda fountain when the owner recognized him as the soldier who gave him his coat on a long march.  The owner treated his no longer anonymous Good Samaritan to an ice cold soda and then Pete saw the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen who happened to be the owner's sister and this fearless war hero froze up and didn't think a beautiful girl like that would ever want to have anything to do with a man like him with only an 8th grade education.  He got up his courage and this beautiful girl, Julie, became his bride a year later.  They were married for over 50 years until she died in 2000.





27 comments:

  1. What a beautiful, poignant post honoring your Pete and to some extent,The Good Doctor. Find myself misty eyed over this and at a loss for words. Such a wonderfully rich life Pete has led. I know you feel honored to tell his story!
    Thank you for this profile in courage,G.

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    1. Thank you Darling Trudye and this Profile in Courage (unlike JFK's Pulitzer winning book actually written by his speechwriter Ted Sorensen) is allowing his deeds to speak far more eloquently than anything I can write.

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  2. Beautiful. Wow that family has great genes, wonderful tale of courage and yes, great to remember people like Pete when im whining about a bad day.....

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    1. Jody,
      He really is a medical marvel and The Good Doc says he is easily the most healthy person of that age he has ever seen and he has treated well over 10,000 in that age group over the past 25 years. I think the new rage is 'standing' rather than sitting and walking as much as possible. Pete was on his feet all day as a mailman and has walked up to 10 miles/day as a volunteer 3x/week over the past 32+ years on the massive Hines VA campus. The Good Doc just got him outfitted with a scooter to assist as he is slowing down a little and Pete wants to put a pic of Betty Grable on one side and Dorothy Lamour on the other whose pics kept his mind of the war hardships.

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  3. Oh, My! Such an uplifting, heart-cheering story. Heroism and True Love and loss and sacrifice, as well as reward and respect and good friends---many a saga and laud have not had such great attributes to sing.

    Your telling as a friend is so warm and awed at the same time, just as one would speak of a much-loved Hero. Thank you for this beautiful moment you shared, and for giving this wonderful man the honor he deserves. My commendations to you both, for knowing such honorable, brave men.

    Hope things are warming up up there---we're shirtsleeves and windows open today!

    rachel

    PS My own Dad's two older brothers died in that epidemic---ages seven and five, several years before he was born.

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    1. Thank you Dear Rachel. Pete is a special man and such an inspiration to all those he meets. The Spring thaw has begun.
      i lost a great-grandfather is that Spanish Flu epidemic too.

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  4. What an inspiring story and a remarkable man!

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  5. That's such a sweet love story, and what an amazing man and family he hailed from. That spanish flu epidemic was dreadful - so many that survived WW1 died from the flu a year later, and due to the war it spread around the world very quickly too.

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    1. My great grandfather died in that epidemic leaving my great grandmother a 25yo widow. She started an insurance company still going almost a century later.

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    2. wow - what an amazing woman! A blog post on her would be v. interesting G.

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    3. Heidi,
      My matralineal line will be introduced during Mother's Day week in mid-May.

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  6. What an excellent tribute. He sounds like a lovely man.

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    1. He is a hero and a gentle soul Jen.

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  7. Okay - that is the best tombstone ever. What a great man and a lovely, inspiring story!

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    1. That tombstone brought me to tears Wendy.

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  8. When is the book coming out? Mr. Poulos' life is calling for it; an impressive man indeed.

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    1. CD, I'll be joining him on his balcony watching the planes come into O'Hare with a little Greek wine when the weather warms up.

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  9. An amazing post, GSL, about an amazing man. That is the most touching headstone inscription I have ever seen. Love that quote from Churchill about the Greeks. Mr. Poulos looks a lot younger than 98. What a life and what an inspiration!

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    1. Jill,
      I think there is a lot to the recent revelations that standing and walking rather than sitting for long periods is the fountain of youth.
      Pete is a real American Hero.

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  10. You are such a wonderful friend. Lovely tribute to dear Pete and the Good Doctor. Hoping Em makes it to Nationals this year. They will be held about an hour outside of Chicago.

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    1. I'm the beneficiary here T; The Good Doctor is the best man I know and I've known some good ones and Pete is one of the all time greats!

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  11. Mr Poulos is a true hero, and clearly the Greeks are the fierce fighters we read about in the The Iliad, although Pete wouldn't sulk like Achilles..
    The inscription on Mrs Poulos headstone made me cry. So touching.

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    1. That headstone got to me too Bebe!

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