PATERSON - U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) today honored WWII combat veteran and Paterson native Seymour "Steve" Atkins by presenting him with medals he had earned while serving our nation, yet had not received following his discharge from the armed services.
"As a veteran myself, it is an honor to help those who served our nation receive the medals they earned with their distinguished service," stated Rep. 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."
Steve Atkins, born and raised in Paterson, left college and enlisted in the Army in 1942 at the age of 18. Mr. 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 Steve Atkins. "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. Mr. Atkins was also among the soldiers in the liberation of the concentration camp at Nordhausen, Germany in April, 1945.
Atkins was recognized by the Paterson Evening News in 1944 for being the first soldier from Paterson to set foot in Germany during WWII.
Dick Atkins, Steve's son, contacted Rep. Pascrell after receiving a letter from the U.S Army denying his father's application for the Bronze Star, citing that Mr. 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.
Rep. Pascrell's staff assisted in securing the necessary supporting documents, allowing Mr. Atkins to qualify for seven medals total that he earned during combat.
"Our family is bursting with pride to see my Dad recognized by his country for his bravery as a young man," said Dick Atkins. "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.