Local man honors Vietnam War vets
Myron Petrakis served on a Navy minesweeper patrolling the area around Korea and Japan in 1945. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 21, 2012 1:14PM
NORRIDGE — An Honor Flight excursion turned into an homage to six Vietnam veterans killed in action.
Myron Petrakis served on a Navy minesweeper patrolling the area around Korea and Japan in 1945.
A friend’s ship hit a mine, and a third of its crew was killed, he recalled. Petrakis was on a sister ship, the USS Murrelet, at the time.
“We never recovered my buddy’s body,” he said.
His tour of duty earned him a free trip to Washington D.C. to view the World War II monument.
Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization, transports veterans to the nation’s capital to visit their monuments.
Petrakis took a detour to the Vietnam Memorial to bring back rubbings of the names of five Norridge residents and one Harwood Heights resident killed in action.
The six men were:
• Marine Cpl. Donald Bollman, killed March 1, 1967;
• Marine PFC Neil Cacciottolo, killed May 10, 1967;
• Marine PFC Ronald Rogowski, killed Sept. 25, 1967;
• Army SP4 James Shukas, killed April 12, 1970; and
• Army SP4 Kenneth Wells, killed March 5, 1967, all of Norridge; and
• Army SP5 George Gavoria, killed Dec. 1, 1966, of Harwood Heights.
Harold Bollman, brother of Donald, said he was surprised to receive the rubbings. When Donald Bollman died at Quang Tri Province, his brothers Norman and Jim also were serving in Vietnam.
“Norman was at Da Nang Air Base and Jimmy was at Ku Chi,” Harold Bollman said. “We got a call that Norman was wounded.”
Harold Bollman recalled a day went by, and they received another call. The family thought it was about Norman.
“But when they came out to the house, they told mom it was Donald,” Harold Bollman said. “She passed out, on her knees.
“Then Jimmy got wounded.”
Harold Bollman said communication was poor back then, but he did his best to find out about his other brothers.
“Jimmy and Norman were in the honor guard for Donald,” Harold Bollman said. “Jimmy looked like he still had mud on him. He was bandaged up.”
Lynne LaJone, Gavoria’s second cousin, said she was “just touched” by Petrakis’ action.
“My great aunt would have been so moved,” she said.
Gavoria’s girlfriend at the time, Mary Jo Blomquist, has kept in touch with the family.
“George was an only child,” she said. “I went with his mother, Lillian, in 1999 to Fort Hood, where she accepted the Air Medal on his behalf.”
Sandra Martino is Wells’ sister. He had extended his tour an extra month when he died, she said.
As part of an airmobile unit, Wells was patrolling the River Saigon in a helicopter when he was shot down.
“He saw a lot of friends die,” Martino said. “They had to move fast. They followed up the First Calvary.”
Asked why he took the time to look up the soldiers, Petrakis said people need to honor and remember all those who serve, those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who come home with broken bodies and minds.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the ship Petrakis served on.)