By Steve Sears
As Sunday, Nov. 11, just passed, military veterans near and far have been honored and remembered for their service in the United States Armed Forces.
George Myers, a Hanover Park High School 1958 graduate who now resides in Richmond, Va., enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after high school, and was stationed at Great Lakes in Chicago, Ill.
“I served from 1958 to 1979 when I retired,” says Myers. “I was an E6, First Class [First Class petty officer, just below Chief]. I got out of high school and there was really nothing going on. My father was an electrician and he couldn’t get me into the union at the time, so I figured, ‘Well, let me go in the Navy and do something there,’ and I enjoyed it when I was in.”
Myers was an Aviation Fire Control Technician working on different aircraft radars and navigation systems. “We were in South China Sea; during Vietnam we launched planes that went in there and did some bombing and reconnaissance. I was on aircraft carriers.”
With regard to Veterans Day, it means much to Myers.
“I fly my flag very day,” he says. “I believe in all the patriotic things that we did, we helped this country, and I’m proud of what we did when I served. You know, I didn’t see combat, but still I supported he people on the ground with the aircraft we launched, and I just think the U.S. is a great place.”
For Myers, the agreeable key word for serving is pride. “Yes sir.”
Cedar Knolls resident Chet Kochan is a 93-year-old man who looks, acts, and speaks younger than his years. He served World War II in the 83rd Infantry division under General George Patton.
“For a guy whose went through a lot…well, I don’t feel my age,” he says. “I’ve got so much energy in me and I’m still working.”
Seriously wounded in World War II and captured but released on a medical trade, he feels fortunate, and speaks proudly of his service to the U.S.A.
“A lot of people forget what we went through,” he says. “I don’t talk about it, honestly, I’m low key, but I still have the original telegram that they sent my mother that says, ‘your son was seriously wounded in action.’ I still have that telegram.”
When WWII broke out, Kochan sought to join the Navy, but his Mom persuaded him to wait to get called.
“At that time, they had a draft,” he says. “But anyway, my oldest brother, who was three years older than me, he joined the Navy, and then later on when I got called, I took a physical, I passed, and the doctor said, ‘Congratulations, son, you’re in the Army.’ I said, ‘Sir, I want to get in the Navy.’ But he said, ‘I’m sorry, son, the quota’s been filled.’ So, when I went home to tell my mother, she didn’t know what to tell me. I always wanted to get in the Navy. I always liked boats and ships, but I just took it, I just let I go.”
Once drafted, Kochan was sent to Fort Dix for two weeks, and then to Fort McLellan, Ala. for basic training. He then took a 13-day convoy ship ride to England, was trucked on arrival five miles to a camp for two days.
“They were telling us how we were going to land in France and all this other good stuff, and then they shipped us to France, and we landed there, and I walked up the hill with the rest of the crew,” he explains. “They told us, ‘Get up…there’s foxholes around here. Go in there til tomorrow morning’ because it was at night that we landed. During the night, I could hear 220 MM gunfire from the Germans, who were only five miles away from us. Scary? Yes.”
The next day, Kochan and comrades fought through many cities and towns, and while traveling through Saint-Malo, France with his unit from house to house, looking for German soldiers. At the end of the village, his captain saw anti-aircraft positions in a field.
“So, he said, ‘We’re going to capture them,’ explains Kochan. “So, he set up a machine gun nest before we took off, and him, my squad leader, myself, and a captain from Company G and two men, we rushed this position, and once we got into this one anti-aircraft position, my captain said to the runner, ‘Go back to battalion headquarters and tell them captured and take somebody with you,’ and he pointed to me.”
Kochan refused to go, and 10 minutes later, the Germans started firing on them from the other direction, Kochan was hit while firing his rifle while those with him entered a nearby tunnel. He immediately yelled to his captain, ‘I’ve been hit!’ Soon after, he was then assailed by hand grenades which hit his legs and arms.
“I got shot through the neck the first time, and they left me there, and then I’m getting hit by hand grenades!” he explains.
The captain eventually sent another soldier over, who removed Kochan’s belt and first aid kit and asked the then 18-year-old, “Where do you want me to put the bandage? You have two holes.”
“I told him to put it on the biggest hole,” responded Kochan. Eventually his team retrieved him, but as soon as they entered the tunnel, they met a blind wall, and a curtain was opened, and they were face-to-face with German soldiers. “They said, ‘Hands up! Hands up!’- so we had to surrender.”
A German medic sat Kochan on a box and removed his bandage, replacing the bloodied cloth with a clean one. Two other Germans arrived, one giving him a piece of candy, the other one asking, “Why are you fighting us?” Kochan didn’t answer.
Two hours later, when they blindfolded him, Kochan thought death was imminent, but it wasn’t. They put him on a stretcher, took him to another location, and when the blindfold was later removed, he was next to his captain. Both were on their way to an American field hospital.
He was part of a medical trade which involved American physicians aiding injured German soldiers.
“So that was how I got released,” he says. The next day, Kochan was airborne for England, transferred to a medical hospital in West Dean, and was treated for three months for his wounds. After his three months stay, his captain informed him, due to his injuries, his active combat service was done.
“I was very fortunate; I got hit in the neck,” he says. “Thank God it didn’t hit my vitals!”
Kochan won a number of awards for his service, including Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and in 2012 received the French Medal of Honor at West Point. He will visit Normandy soon for the 75th anniversary and, although he claims not to mentally ever revisit the day of his wounding, he will in 2019 visit the field at Saint-Malo in France for the first time since World War II.
“I thank God I was one of the lucky ones to get back,” he says. “There’s a purpose for me and why I was saved. I’m glad [to be going back to Saint-Malo]. I want to see if the anti-aircraft position is still there.”
He, like others veteran, gets very upset when people don’t properly salute the flag. “We fought for our lives to save these people, and they’re insulting us by not saluting the flag,” he says. “I’m very upset. A lot of my buddies got killed, wounded, some had legs fall off, their arms, you know what I mean…for what? For what? What did we go through? These people don’t realize.”