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Mark Nahabedian with Helen, his wife of 67 years. | Family photo

Mark Nahabedian, proud WWII vet who lived the American dream, has died

SHARE Mark Nahabedian, proud WWII vet who lived the American dream, has died
SHARE Mark Nahabedian, proud WWII vet who lived the American dream, has died

Mark Nahabedian lived to be 92 — in part by playing dead at 20.

He was a soldier in the U.S. Army in August of 1944, fighting his way through small-town France. As his unit advanced, he saw countless dead soldiers. Mr. Nahabedian always remembered one young man whose body looked nearly unblemished. The dead soldier apparently had tried to crawl to safety out of fear Germans fighters would finish off the wounded.

“He had crawled and bled out,” said Mr. Nahabedian’s daughter Carrie Nahabedian, the well-known Chicago chef. “My dad said if this happened to him, he was going to play dead.”

He soon got that chance. The next day, near the town of Morton, mortar fire raked his abdomen and back.

Mark Nahabedian (right) reunited with his cousin Colette and uncle Ohan “John” Nahabedian in WWII-era Marseilles. | Family photo

Mark Nahabedian (right) reunited with his cousin Colette and uncle Ohan “John” Nahabedian in WWII-era Marseilles. | Family photo

“The Germans came through, but he said he played dead,” she said. “He was able to live because he played dead.”

Within hours, rescuers appeared. “My father moved his feet, his hand, and then made a noise, called out as best as he could,” his daughter said. “A guy said, ‘Oh, he’s not dead,’ and picked him up.”

That day, “He said he died, and he was born again,” said Helen, his wife of 67 years.

Though his war injuries would necessitate abdominal surgery decades after the war, he went on to have a long career as a carpet-layer with Marshall Field’s, followed by a 36-year retirement during which he enjoyed golfing, swimming and playing softball at his new home in Marco Island, Fla.

A proud WWII vet, Mark Nahabedian received the Legion d’Honneur for his assistance liberating France. He was named a “<em>chevalier”</em> — a knight. | Family photo

A proud WWII vet, Mark Nahabedian received the Legion d’Honneur for his assistance liberating France. He was named a “chevalier” — a knight. | Family photo

Mr. Nahabedian died June 10 at Naples Community Hospital. He’d been recovering from spinal surgery when he caught pneumonia, his daughter said.

All his life, he believed hard work, the stock market and real estate could help anyone achieve the American dream. He and his wife raised three daughters, including Carrie Nahabedian, who’s won a James Beard Award for her River North restaurant Naha.

At a 2009 ceremony in Naples, Florida, France awarded him and other veterans its prestigious Legion d’Honneur to recognize their help in liberating France.

“He was a true soldier,” his daughter said. “In the airports, he would talk to the soldiers going or coming from Iraq or Afghanistan. He’d tell them, ‘The difference is, we knew who our enemy was, and you don’t.’ ”

Helen and Mark Nahabedian were married for 67 years. | Family photo

Helen and Mark Nahabedian were married for 67 years. | Family photo

Young Mark grew up on the Northwest Side, the son of Magar and Rose, survivors of what’s become known as the Armenian genocide.

He was at Steinmetz High School when the Pearl Harbor invasion happened. He enlisted after high school and went to Europe via Army troop carrier. To the end of his life, he refused to get on a ship, even for a family vacation cruise.

Mark Nahabedian with his chef-daughter Carrie Nahabedian. | Facebook photo

Mark Nahabedian with his chef-daughter Carrie Nahabedian. | Facebook photo

“He would say, ‘No, you guys can go,’ ” his daughter said. “He just said, ‘I was seasick the entire time, going and coming.’ ”

During his service, he reunited in Marseilles with his uncle Ohan “John” Nahabedian, a Frenchman who’d been held at Stalag 11, a German POW camp. When his captors found out he was a trained French chef, they made Ohan cook for them, Carrie Nahabedian said. After the war, the uncle wound up operating John’s Shish Kebob and Grill in Racine, Wisconsin.

A lifelong love affair with France started during Mr. Nahabedian’s convalescence from his combat wounds. He learned to speak French and adored French food.

Mr. Nahabedian was laying carpet at the Ritz-Carlton when he met its French chefs. He told them about Carrie, then 16 and already an accomplished cook. His fluent French impressed them. When they found out he also was a liberator of France, they were thrilled.

“That’s how I got my first job,” the chef said.

While visiting friends in Worcester, Mass.,Mr. Nahabedian met Helen Sharigian. They got married at the original St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, 1000 N. Hoyne, and settled in the Chicago area.

“He loved baseball,” Mark Nahabedian’s daughter Carrie said. “As a child, he saw Babe Ruth play at Wrigley Field.”

“He loved baseball,” Mark Nahabedian’s daughter Carrie said. “As a child, he saw Babe Ruth play at Wrigley Field.”

In 1968, he saw the potential of then-undeveloped Marco Island and bought property there.

He was also a founding member of St. Gregory the Illuminator at 6700 W. Diversey.

“He loved baseball,” the chef said. “As a child, he saw Babe Ruth play at Wrigley Field.”

Mr. Nahabedian was in Cherbourg when the Cubs and Detroit Tigers met at the 1945 World Series. He listened to the game on the radio.

And, “There wasn’t any Armenian he didn’t admire,” his daughter said, including Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, NFL kicker Garo Yepremian, author William Saroyan, Cher and “Mannix” star Mike Connors, who was born Kreker J. Ohanian.

Mr. Nahabedian is also survived by his daughters Christine LaForce and Cathy Miller; his siblings Helen Kuefner, George Nahabedian and Sadie Marcantonio and two grandchildren. Services have been held.

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