PATERSON, NJ – Paterson native Seymour "Steve" Atkins waited almost seven decades for his World War II combat medals.
On Monday, through the assistance of Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., Atkins finally received the recognition he deserved.
Born and raised in Paterson, Atkins left college and enlisted in the Army in 1942 at the age of 18, according to a press release issued by Pascrell’s office. Atkins was in continuous combat service under fire in the European Theater with the 7th Corps, Army Combat Engineers, from the D-Day invasion in June 1944 through VE Day in 1945.
"To be honored, especially with the Bronze Star and the Combat Badge, after all this time is heartening," said Atkins, who now lives in West Orange. "What happened so long ago seems like yesterday. It's hard for anybody who hasn't been in actual combat to really understand what it means. I know I was lucky more than once to make it through. Combat shapes the rest of your life. I went in as a boy, and came out as a man."
As a Combat Engineer, Atkins cleared land mines during the D-Day invasion of Normandy and built temporary bridges in advance of the infantry, all while under enemy fire, the press release said. He was also among the soldiers in the liberation of the concentration camp at Nordhausen, Germany in April, 1945.
"As a veteran myself, it is an honor to help those who served our nation receive the medals they earned with their distinguished service," said Pascrell, a veteran of the U.S. Army and Army Reserve. "Steve Atkins is a distinguished American who waited far too long to receive his Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman's Badge, and I am proud that our office was able to present them to him in the presence of his loved ones."
Atkins was recognized by the Paterson Evening News in 1944 for being the first soldier from Paterson to set foot in Germany during WWII, according to the press release.
Dick Atkins, Steve's son, contacted Pascrell after receiving a letter from the U.S Army denying his father's application for the Bronze Star, according to Pascrell. The Army said Atkins did not have the necessary Military Operational Specialty to qualify for the medal, and that many supporting documents were lost in a fire in 1977.
But Pascrell's staff assisted in securing the necessary supporting documents, allowing Mr. Atkins to qualify for seven medals.
"Our family is bursting with pride to see my Dad recognized by his country for his bravery as a young man," said Dick Atkins in the press release. "It's only as we've all gotten older that we realize how deeply that experience still lives in him every day. We're lucky that Paterson turns out fighters. Not only did Steve Atkins and Bill Pascrell both serve for all of us in the Army, but Congressman Pascrell fought alongside us to see my Dad honored today, to let him know that his country never forgets. And we will be forever grateful for it."
Atkins met his wife, Alice, at a welcome home party upon his return from overseas. They will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this month.