World War II veteran reflects on service and the gratitude he’s been shown

Only a few thousand World War II veterans remain in New Jersey. News 12 spoke with one such veteran from Bridgewater about his experience over the last several decades.
At the age of 96, a smile comes easy for Joe Barnish – just as it did nearly 80 years ago when he signed up for the Navy. In his enlistment photo, with the prospect of facing danger or death, Barnish smiled.
“I think it was more or less an honor to be in there. I kept saying to myself, ‘Lord, I wonder how long this war is doing to last so I can get going home,’” Barnish says.
Barnish spent the war on a ship moving men and equipment across the ocean. Saipan, Tinian, Pelilou – he was at some of the biggest battles of the Pacific theater.
“What I saw going on, how the big ships were shelling and planes were dropping bombs. And then I said, ‘This is not too good,’ you know? It seemed it was like a movie. I just couldn’t believe it,” Barnish says. “The biggest scare I ever had was West Loch, though.”
West Loch at Pearl Harbor. It is an oft-forgotten ammunition explosion that killed 163 sailors. Barnish’s ship was right near the fires.
“I find it so amazing. Not just him, but the others. How did they live through that?” asks Barnish’s daughter Kathy Barnish.
Through the years, Kathy has been there and has heard all the thanks at veterans parades, ceremonies and even at a New Jersey Devils game.
“Everyone cheering for him. It gives me chills now. That’s what makes me feel proud. Everyone else acknowledges him,” Kathy says.
For Barnish, it’s the simple gestures that have meant the most.
“We went to this Burger King. That was one of our favorite spots. A few people thanked us. I think that was really nice,” he says.
According to the National World War II Museum, there were about 6,700 World War II veterans living in New Jersey at the start of 2021. But the stats show that about a third of them have been lost this year alone.