When Robert Petrusa’s home was broken into 40 years ago, taken were a brand new television, a bank and the nine medals he had received for his service during World War II.
About a month ago, he received new medals that replaced each of the nine that had been stolen.
“I contacted everybody possible. It was like a wall,” said the 88-year-old Petrusa. “It took two years of negotiating until I finally got my medals.”
Among the medals that were stolen from his home in 1960 were his Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
Petrusa and his wife Bernice were living in Channahon, Ill. at the time. They had moved to the community in 1947 after his father, who had been in the grocery store business, drove the couple to the small community.
Petrusa’s father instructed them to sit in the car. When his father returned to the car, he handed Petrusa a key and said, “Monday morning – open it up.”
The couple stayed in the community 40-some years. They raised their family there, and after Bernice passed away in 1984, Petrusa worked at a friend’s grocery store for a bit. “After a few years, I decided to move up here,” he said. “I bought a farm and have been up here 25 years.”
His daughter Diane and her husband George had moved their family to the state prior to his move, and after making the move himself, Petrusa talked to his oldest grandson Zachary about joining him in a trip to Germany where he planned to return to a town where a family had been nice to him when he was serving in World War II.
“The mother, father and one son were dead, but two of the sons were alive. They remembered their parents talking about ‘their American friend,” Petrusa said. “I did that about 15 years ago.”
Petrusa’s parents left Yugoslavia in 1903 for the U.S. Petrusa was born and raised in Joliet, Ill., the son of a grover.
Petrusa was 21 years old when in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Three weeks before he was shipped overseas, he and Bernice were married.
During his training at Camp Barkley in Texas Petrusa volunteered for kitchen duty. This meant he did not have to do the drills. “The only thing I had to do was crawl under a barbed wire,” he said.
Kitchen duty continued for Petrusa as he moved to other camps in the country and also when he was sent to England where he worked in a hospital.
After Petrusa made colonel, he was sent to France, where he decided to be a medic.
In 1944, Petrusa was in a mountainous area in Germany when one of his friends was wounded.
Recalling how during basic training, he had to crawl under a barbed wire, he explained that he used that experience when he had to crawl to his friend.
Putting a bandage on his friend’s arm and using a rifle to help support that friend, they had to crawl several hundred feet, with mortar hitting the exact spots where they had been as they continued to crawl.
They made it but not before being told to hit a ravine as shells landed on both sides of them.
That friend made it to the hospital, and years later, Petrusa wrote to him.
As the war was winding down, they went to Yugoslavia where they set up in a school.
Across the street was a farmhouse. One night, Petrusa knocked on their door, communicating that he wanted to write a letter to his wife.
Because of the hospitality he received from the family, he sent them CARE packages when he returned to the United States and kept in touch with them.
Petrusa was discharged in 1946 and said that there had been a lot of communication through the years regarding his stolen medals.
He had his original discharge papers; he just did not know where they were.
Eventually, they were found. When asked why he decided to get the stolen medals replaced all these years later, Petrusa said, “I wanted my medals to eventually be handed to my grandson Zachary, that he would be the historian of the family and then to his children some day from their great-grandfather and then for maybe future generations to know that someone fought for them.”