By Burt Constable
As the 9-year-old kid brother of World War II hero John Pellettiere, Dan Pellettiere Jr. understood the significance of his Chicago Cubs moment with his father and brother in 1945. Using both hands, the young boy held his 1945 World Series tickets tucked under his chin and gazed up at his dad's camera for the black-and-white photograph.
This weekend, Pellettiere, 80, can re-enact that World Series photo at Wrigley Field with his long-dead brother's son from Long Grove and three generations of Pellettieres.
"It's my mission, my goal, to get Dan back to the World Series and to do it with my two sons, John and Joe," says 66-year-old John Pellettiere Jr., a Cubs season-ticket holder and the son of the war hero who died in 1980 of heart problems at age 62. "The Cubs in the World Series means the world to our family. Hopefully, the tradition will continue, and John and Joe will get to take their kids to a World Series game at Wrigley."
It's been a nostalgic journey from 1945 to the 2016 World Series for Dan Pellettiere. Taking a few deep breaths and wiping tears from the corners of his eyes, the Palatine man remembers the emotions of the 1945 World Series, starting with the train ride to Wrigley.
"That in itself was a big deal, riding with my dad and my brother, two of my heroes," he says.
His brother, John, joined the Army as a young man and served with the U.S. Cavalry. He was patrolling the Mexican border on a horse that he named "Little Dan" when the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. John Pellettiere, 18 years older than his brother, became a tank commander during the war. He almost died on his first day in France when a mine blew up his tank and killed the soldier next to him.
Nicknamed "Porky," the 138-pound Pellettiere rose through the ranks to become commander with the 712th Tank Battalion. Seeing combat daily as he moved through France, Pellettiere fought in the Battle of the Bulge and rolled through Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Wounded twice, he earned two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Star Medals for "heroic achievement" and a Silver Star Medal when he dodged enemy fire on foot while leading his tanks to a successful surprise attack on the enemy in Germany. He didn't talk much about the war, but he did mail home some letters and souvenirs.
"I remember when the shrapnel came home. It was wrapped up in gauze. It was bloody," Dan Pellettiere remembers. When his brother returned to their neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago in the summer of 1945, people appreciated his sacrifices and knew he was a big Cubs fan.
"Family lore has it that the neighbors helped him because he was a war hero, but somebody came up with three tickets (to each game in Chicago)," John Pellettiere Jr. says. So the veteran, his dad and his brother headed to Wrigley.
"I remember the smell of cigars and the beer, and that my dad wore a coat and tie," says Dan Pellettiere, who still has the bat that his favorite player, Cubs great Andy Pafko, gave him after one regular season game. He got out of school on a Wednesday for the climactic World Series Game 7 against the Detroit Tigers.
"I know my hero did well," Dan Pellettiere says, recalling how Pafko, the Cubs center fielder, hit a triple and drove in one of the Cubs' runs in a 9-3 loss. "I was distraught that the Cubs didn't win, and I've carried that distraughtness with me the whole time."
That changed a bit on Saturday night when Dan Pellettiere and family members watched the Cubs win the National League pennant in Wrigley. John Pellettiere Jr. whipped out his phone and recorded his Uncle Dan, who brought a photo of his late brother to the game. "He reached into his pocket, unfolded the picture, and held it up to the sky," John Pellettiere Jr. says.
The late soldier's widow, Marie, is 95 years old and watches every game on TV. A die-hard Cubs fan, as is everyone in the Pellettiere family, she is so happy that her Cubs finally are in the World Series instead of "those pesky Redbirds," says her son.
As emotional as a World Series game at Wrigley will be, the Pellettieres, who have tickets to Game 4, aren't going to spend much time talking about the 71-year sentimental journey that landed them at Wrigley for another World Series.
"Not during the game," Dan Pellettiere says. "We're heavily into the game."