I always had an interest in the people in my congregations who served in World War II. I can only recall a single person who was killed while serving and, thus, is one for whom we have this Memorial Day observance and holiday. Numerous relatives served in that war and many of these were wounded.
My father-in-law was only a couple hundred yards from battleship row at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He saw it all but his ship, a destroyer, was not attacked nor hit. He later was only feet from where a Kamikaze hit that same destroyer a few years later. He was wounded but not killed. My father had injuries from a P-51 crash. One congregant said he was “shot up in Italy” another said “You’ve never heard of the places I served like Buna and Lae.” Oh yes I have. The stories are abundant.
I was introduced to George Simmons while standing in the church cemetery with his older sister, Alleen. She pointed to a memorial marker and said, “That’s my younger brother, George. He was killed in Italy.” Perhaps we talked about him in more detail but I don’t recall.
George was 21 and a farm worker when he enlisted in 1942 about a year after Pearl Harbor attack. The household included him, his parents and an older sister, they in their mid-40s and she in her mid-20s. Surely, there were discussions about him enlisting and serving. Whatever these were, he made the trip to the closest Army base, Ft. Jackson, and signed up, November 19,1942. So far as I know, before he enlisted in the Army he never lived anywhere but the small farm house in rural South Carolina.
He was a private. There are no medals of valor attached to his name. His awards included the Good Conduct Medal, World War II Medal, and Purple Heart. He served exactly 555 days before he died in Italy, May 27, 1944, of wounds received in action. He was buried near where he died. Sometime later a memorial marker was put in the church cemetery in South Carolina where other family members were buried.
His closest relative, the older sister, Alleen once told me that someone had been to Italy and brough her a photograph of the marker. It was a treasure to her. He is buried, Plot A Row 12 Grave 14, in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy along side of 7,857 other American war dead whose remains were identified and another 3,095 who were missing in action. His unit and service dates would put him in the Anzio landing and action thereafter. The cemetery is very close to Anzio.
Alleen never said much else about it. Millions of Americans suffered the same kind of loss. Twenty years ago I presided over her burial a few feet from her brother’s memorial marker. His body lies under a cross about 5,000 miles away where he died in service to his country. Enjoy your holiday.
The cemetery photograph is from the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. George Simmons’ marker is from findagrave.com.
The helmet photo with the pack of Camels…well…Stephen Ambrose wrote that Eisenhower smoked four packs of Camels per day.