By Nathan Mayberg
Monticello August 22, 2006 Over sixty years after their heroic service during World War 2, two area veterans were honored with medals by United States Congressman Maurice Hinchey. In addition, a local Vietnam veteran was given his overdue medals.
Eugene Young of Wurtsboro and John Simihtis of Montgomery were the two WW2 veterans. George Becker was the Vietnam Veteran.
Young, a native of Brooklyn, attempted to sign up for the war at age 16. He was told to come back in a year, and so he served in the U.S. Navy from 1944-1946. He spent much of his time in the Pacific Ocean, where the action was ceaseless during the last year of the war.
On Thursday, Hinchey presented him with the World War 2 Victory Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Pin and Naval Discharge Button.
Young was also presented with a high school diploma from county legislator Kathleen LaBuda. The diploma was awarded to him several years ago based on his military service.
He married his high school sweetheart Evelyn, in 1949.
George Becker, also of Wurtsboro via New York City, was in the thick of combat during the Vietnam War. He worked on Assault Support Helicopters and was a dog gunner during three air missions.
On Thursday, Hinchey gave him the Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Bronze Star Attachment (double), Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with device, National Defense Service Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Expert Badge and Rifle Bar, Marksman Badge and Auto Rifle Bar. He served in Vietnam from June 1969 to December, 1971.
Becker also served in the 24th Military Intelligence Unit. After the war, he served with ARCOM, and was an adjunct to the General overseeing military recruitment in New York State. He also was with the supply sergeant with the 69th Infantry or Fighting Irish. He was an active and reserve member of the National Guard for 13 years.
The Sullivan County Veterans Service Agency assisted in obtaining some of the medals for him. Becker described the war as hairy times. We got hit every other night with mortars and rockets, he said. There were a lot of close calls.
Simihtis was with the Merchant Marines, part of the U.S. Coast Guard, and witnessed American ships torpedoed by German submarines. He is credited with saving several lives of U.S. servicemen from the water, after their ships were sunk off the coast of England. He had to work hard to convince the Captain to even stop for the soldiers and then pulled them out with his hands and the help of others.
Simihtis signed up for the war after the attacks of Pearl Harbor, and served out the remainder of the war. Two of his friends that he signed up with were killed as fighter pilots. Simihtis ended up staying with the Merchant Marines until 1975. During World War 2, he served on vessels which brought weapons and supplies to the military and its allies.
His travels took him down to South America, up to Europe and North Africa. He was involved in the large invasion of Sicily in 1943, and was mistakenly imprisoned by two American military policemen, who charged him with trespassing. He had to pay $25 to get released. Ironically, it was in Italy that he met his wife Elena after the war.
On Thursday, he was awarded the Mediterranean Middle East War Zone Bar and Medal, the World War 2 Victory Medal, the Merchant Marine Emblem, the Honorable Service Button and a Presidential Testimonial Letter. He will also be receiving the Atlantic War Zone Bar and Medal.
If I had to do it again, I would, he said. Simihtis said many of his fellow servicemen were frightened serving on those vessels.
Some of those ships were carrying 500 pound bombs. You couldnt even sleep, he said. If those ships were torpedoed, it would be over quick, he commented.
Everybody was scared. You need guts, he said. That is what Simihtis said separated him from many of his counterparts. And it keeps him going at full throttle today at age 85. He is in great shape, is full of life, energy and has a full set of hair on his head. And he loves to cook. After accepting the medals from Hinchey, he gave a speech stating that he was proud to serve the country in order to preserve freedom and democracy.
Simihtis, a native of Hells Kitchen, one of the roughest neighborhoods in New York City at the time, is one of those who believes his generation had a little more class than todays bunch. It was a good era. The people were nice, he said.