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World War II Veteran Peter Poulos has volunteered at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital for 26 years.

WWII veteran on active duty -- as a volunteer

by Kelly C. Doherty
May 28, 2010


Kelly Doherty/MEDILL

Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital volunteer, Peter Poulos, has decorated his scooter with photos and memorabilia from his service in World War II.

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Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital Volunteer PageGoogle Map of Chicago Area VA Hospitals

Peter Poulos - A hero you should know

Hometown: Peter Poulos is originally from Tripoli, Greece, but immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920’s, where his family settled in Chicago.  He spent 30 days on boat from Greece to Ellis Island and compared his experience to scenes of the third-class conditions in the movie “Titanic.”  He noted, “Every so often they would let us come up for air, like rats.”  He currently resides in River Grove.

Age: 93 – birthday is 12/23/1916

Family:  Three biological brothers and four half-siblings (two brothers and two sisters). He married his wife, Julie, in 1948. She passed away about 10 years ago. They had no children.

Volunteer Stats:  Started volunteering at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in November of 1984 and has logged 22,874 volunteer hours since then, helping out in the extended care unit on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. His duties include taking patients to appointments within the hospital or to the PX store, running errands for staff on the unit, and taking patients on outings. 

Military Service:  Served in the U.S. Army as a sergeant in the 37th Division, from 1942-1946. He was stationed in the South Pacific, and saw combat in places like Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and New Guinea. He also traveled to other countries such as Japan, the Philippines, China, and India during his tour of duty.

Career outside the military:  Worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in the telegraph and signal department before heading to war. Upon his return he worked for 30 years as an inspector for the U.S. Postal Service.

Special recognition: In 2003 President George W. Bush arranged a personal meeting with Poulos, during a visit to Chicago, to thank him for his service as a volunteer within the VA and for his military service.  It turns out the Poulos-Bush connection dates back to World War II when Peter saw President George H. W. Bush being rescued after his plane was shot down in the Pacific Ocean. “They said ‘we’re fishing out a flyboy,’ and it was him. Now it comes to it.”

In 2009, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department honored Poulos with the Cook County Sheriff’s Senior Medal of Honor Award.

Hobbies:  Poulos enjoys doing projects with photos and his service memorabilia. He said he has put together a movie with photos and music from his army days and has created some collages of war photos to display on his scooter.  “To us [veterans] it is a treasure,” he said of his keepsakes from his time in the service.

Why he joined the army:  He was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad and saw a lot of the freight trains carrying tanks, guns and other equipment for the war. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he decided to enlist.“I said to myself ‘What am I doing here? That’s where I belong, where the action is.’”

On how to stay youthful:  “You think young. You move around. You can’t sit back and think about what happened [war memories]. That’ll draw you down. That will knock you out.”

Barbara Hunt, Chief of Voluntary Service, on Peter’s service to the hospital: “Peter is unique of course because of his age, his motivation, and the fact that he is so excited about being able to volunteer here….I tell people all the time that I hope my life can be as full as Peter’s.”

Peter Poulos isn’t your average 93-year-old or your average veteran.

The retired postal inspector spends three days a week volunteering at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, working with patients in the extended care unit, and has been doing so for 26 years. As a World War II veteran himself, he said he sees the need for help within VA hospitals and felt this was a way he could give back to those who served. 

For those who don’t know him (and most everyone does at Hines), he looks years younger than his age and moves with a swift elegance. He often rides his scooter, decorated with war photos and memorabilia, throughout the hospital. That's not because he has any difficulty walking, but because the nearly mile-long hallway that he traverses several times a day can add up to quite a distance when you are as busy as he is. 

His sense of humor shines through as he jokes with staff and patients while navigating the hallway toward the canteen, stopping to help a wheelchair-bound patient with a door. Staff members say his kind spirit and dedication to his work is an inspiration to them and their patients. He has been recognized for his volunteer service to the VA by President George W. Bush and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.