FOLLANSBEE - Although it took more than 60 years for them to reach him, the World War II medals presented to Joe Settimio of Follansbee were much appreciated.
At a surprise party recently attended by many of his family, Settimio was presented the World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Star Attachment (Double) and Bronze Arrowhead, an Honorable Service lapel pin and a Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.
Settimio said he is among many veterans who were awarded these honors, but he's pleased to receive official acknowledgment of his part with many others in the war.
The World War II Victory Medal was awarded by Congress to all who served during the war, and the Marksmanship Badge and Rifle Bar to service members who successfully completed training in that area
The Honorable Service pin was issued to those discharged from military service under honorable conditions.
But the others are related to more specific roles in the war effort.
The Philippine Liberation Ribbon, later awarded as a medal, was awarded by the Republic of the Philippines to members of the Allied Forces who liberated the Philippine Islands from Japanese control.
The Asiatic Campaign Medal was issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to troops who served in the Pacific Theater, with Bronze Stars denoting the number of battles in which they participated and the Bronze Arrowhead, their part in an amphibious assault.
"I had to fight my parents to get out and serve my country," Settimio recalled. He was 18 when he received his draft notice in 1943 and was working at a local machine shop.
Because the shop was involved in supplying materials for the war, the owner was sure he could get Settimio a deferment.
But he had friends who had lied about their age to get into the military.
Settimio said when his father learned he turned down a chance at deferment, he angrily asked, "What do you think, they're going to shoot candy at you?"
After undergoing 13 weeks of training in Hawaii, Settimio was deployed in October 1944 with many others to the Philippine Island of Layte, the site of one of the largest naval battles of the war.
He recalled fighting at the front lines, "as close to the enemy as you could get," and sometimes wishing he'd followed his father's advice. On one occasion a mortar fell near him and another soldier as they were following their platoon leader to the front.
Fortunately it was a dud, but their leader was killed as he struggled to unjam his carbine rifle.
By Christmas Eve he was in a hospital, not for a shrapnel wound, but for treatment of "jungle rot," a bacterial infection common to tropical climates that causes skin ulcers in the lower limbs.
While there, he saw fellow Follansbee resident John Ciccolella, who told him to tell his parents he was OK when Settimio returned home.
Both would return home eventually, but many others were not as fortunate, Settimio noted.
Paesano said television newsman Tom Brokaw was correct in dubbing Americans involved in the war effort as the nation's "Greatest Generation."
Settimio said in addition to the many in the military, everyone at home supported the war effort in some way.
"Everybody wanted to do what they could for their country," he said.
Settimio said of his experiences in combat, "It was real scary at times, but I was real glad to do my part."
After returning from the war, Settimio completed his senior year of high school, during which he met Gerri, his future wife of 63 years.
One of his daughters, Lori Barney of Pittsburgh, arranged for him to receive the medals with the help of U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
"I knew which medals he had. He only had a couple, and I knew he was missing some" Barney said, so she researched World War II medals on the Internet.
Barney and her sister, Suzanne Wells of New Philadelphia, Ohio, said their father has always been patriotic.
They recalled him showing them to properly display a U.S. flag in the window of their home and encouraging them to wave little U.S. flags at local parades.
In addition to the two, the Settimios have five children, Robin of St. Clairsville, Ohio; Maribeth of Follansbee; Joe and Randy, both of South Carolina; and Cathy of Atlanta; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.