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John Peter Vournakis

Courtesy Fields of Honor Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


John Peter Vournakis

"The willingness of America's veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude."

Jeff Miller

One man who deserves the respect of many was John Peter Vournakis. Enlisting to fight honorably for his country at the age of 23, he was a man who understood sacrifice. Leaving behind his worldly possessions to defend his country against the Nazi invasion of Europe, he fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He and his maternal cousins, Thomas and George Anas managed the Weir-Cove Theater until Vournakis's enlistment, after which the theater was named Anas Theater. The theater still stands today, as a relic of their legacy.

"Johnny" Vournakis was born in Wellsburg, West Virginia, on May 30, 1918, and grew up in Hollidays Cove with his cousins. His lineage traced back to Greece on both sides with his mother, Panagiota (Mary) Anas Vournakis, as well as his father, Peter John Vournakis, being Greek. In 1928, he took a 19-day trip to Greece, the parents' place of origin, and stopped in New York City on his return. He later took residence in Hancock County, West Virginia, and lived there until his enlistment in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1941. He stayed in school until the second year of high school, when he started working as a manager of the then Weir-Cove Theater in Weirton. His cousin, Thomas Anas, is documented to have worked on average 85 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, and being the co-manager of the theater, John is assumed to have worked close to the same amount of time.

Vournakis officially entered the service on September 11, 1941. The most of his training was conducted in the newly-formed Army Air Corps at Big Springs, Texas, ending on April 23, 1943, when he received his bombardier wings and commission as a second lieutenant. In September 1943, his unit was sent to England, to be later assigned to the "historic raid of Schweinfurt." This raid was used as a comparison later in the war to show the true intensity an air battle could reach at this point. The 379th Bomber Group, within the 524th Bomber Squadron, under the 8th Air Force, fell under heavy fire in the skies above Singhofen, Germany. Vournakis was the sole bombardier on the B-17 when it was eventually shot down between 1415 and 1445 hours by an enemy Messerschmidt BF 110, a Nazi fighter plane. This raid is historic in that 14 of the 60 heavy bombers failed to return; the crews were at first presumed missing in action, and later pronounced dead. (Source: "Local Bombardier School Furnished More Than Share for Historic Raid," Big Spring [TX] Weekly Herald, 11 Aug. 1944.)
B-17G aircrew

A B-17G aircrew of the 379th Bombardment Group (H), Eighth Air Force. Courtesy the National Archives, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed from American Battle Monuments Commission

Purple Heart

The Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster

Second Lieutenant John P. Vournakis remained under missing in action status for less than a year, when he was officially pronounced killed in action, more specifically, killed by foreign object debris (FOD). After being officially listed as killed in action, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Award, with the Oak Leaf Cluster, signifying he was awarded that medal multiple times. Vournakis sacrificed his personal safety and ultimately his life to protect the ideals many Americans hold so dearly. If it wasn't for the brave men like Vournakis, the rights many take for granted might not exist at all.

Today, Vournakis is buried in Neupre, Belgium, in the Ardennes American Cemetery. One of the many American cemeteries abroad, the Ardennes American Cemetery's grave plots are organized in the form of a Greek cross. John Peter Vournakis is buried at Plot C, Row 36, Grave 12, and he lies at rest in the land he helped liberate.
Ardennes American Cemetery

Snow covers the ground at Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Article prepared by Ahmed Zanabli, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015


John Peter Vournakis

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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