Decades later, vets get honors they earned
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
It's been more than six decades since Michael Cocca came home from the Pacific Theater of World War II. But Friday night he finally got his recognition.
Cocca was among the World War II veterans who received a trove of medals decades in coming at a dinner organized by local Disabled American Veterans Chapter 38. The chapter holds ceremonies to honor veterans with medals they either never applied for or didn't know they were eligible to apply for.
"This is something none of us expected or were looking for," said Cocca of Green Island. "Receiving these medals is not necessarily something we were seeking, but it's something we enjoy not only on our behalf but on that of our families."
Cocca's brother Frank Cocca, also of Green Island, and Anthony Schmitz of Albany also were honored at the ceremony. Families of local veterans Peter Guenette, Joseph Edwards, Michael Massiconi, Donald Dunham and Paul Buck were set to be honored with medals as well.
Both Coccas and Schmitz gave credit to the Rev. Francis A. Kelley Chapter 38 of Disabled American Veterans co-chair John Mullen for helping organize the honors. Mullen helps fill out applications for medals and read through veterans' discharge papers to determine what honors they're eligible for.
"This means everything to me," he said. "I just want these veterans all to be honored. ... I'm trying to give them something to show for their service."
Schmitz said he was grateful to be honored after all this time.
It wasn't the first time he has received high honors years after the fact. In May 2012 Schmitz and David Catallo of Waterford were awarded the Legion of Honor, France's most prestigious military decoration, for their roles in the liberation of France.
Frank Cocca, who also served in Europe, said he didn't expect to receive such a "great honor" Friday, adding, "I'm glad I lived this long to receive it."
Michael Cocca recalled how he ended up serving in the Navy in the Pacific Theater, something that he can thank his brother for.
"He wrote home and said, 'Whatever you do, don't come in the Army. Go in the Navy,'" Michael Cocca said.
Six decades later, he still spoke with pride about making that decision.
"I always wanted to be in flying," said Michael Cocca, who served as an aviation radioman. "Being a crewman in a torpedo plane was like a dream come true."