Belated comments regarding VE Day 2020

VE Day just passed, and it’s been seventy-five years since very early morning on May 7, 1945 when General Alfred Jodl, representing the German government, surrendered formally at the Allies HQ in Reims, France. A separate treaty was signed with the Soviet Union in Berlin the next day. The war continued for a few bloody months in the Pacific until the Japanese Emperor signed a document of surrender September 2, 1945. That followed the official announcement on August 15, about a week after an Atomic bomb was dropped on two Japanese cities.


The end of the war in Europe was celebrated widely, and most of the people my generation (I just turned seventy-eight) were very small children in during the war. Many more were born within a few years of the war’s end when the US military returned home.


In the family history of both my wife and myself, our fathers’ experiences reflect the “all in” spirit of the United States during WW 2. My wife’s dad was born in 1921. He had enlisted right after high school, prior to the war, was honorably discharged home to southern West Virginia, and then was recalled when the US went to war in Europe. Joe L. Simmons was a West Virginia kid, with only a high school education, and no real job skills yet, other than a willingness to work hard and learn. He became part of an Air Force B-17 crew and flew thirty missions over Europe, each one into the air space over some part of Germany. He was a waist gunner for twenty-nine of these and the tail gunner for his final mission. He and his crew, based in England, flew their missions starting on October 22, 1944 and completed the final one on February 22, 1945. He kept a handwritten log of every mission, with the time-in-air, location of the target, approximate results of their bombing, and description of resistance including flak, anti-aircraft fire from the ground, and German fighter aircraft sent up to intercept them. He also described the US and allied fighter escorts (mainly P-51s but also some P-47s) that accompanied the B-17 squadrons.



His plane suffered no damage from any German fighters, but was hit numerous times with flak and probably some anti-aircraft fire, and had to lag the squadron several times on the way back to England. The plane landed missing one engine at least once. He described seeing several B-17s hit and exploding during their missions. Their targets included tank works, air fields, ordinance depots, gun installations, a coke refinery, railroad junctions, the Herman Goering steelworks, a tank factory, and marshalling yards. They also supported ground troops once; the target was described as “supporting troops over a battlefield.”


Mr. Simmons was a quiet man. He never brought up the war when I was around, and I was never able to discuss his experiences with him. His “log” of the flights was turned over to military authorities before he deactivated and came home, and was returned to his family many years later when such documents were declassified. I saw him angry only once, and that was at me. I deserved it. He was a huge man, with hands that totally dwarfed mine. He had a solid career, working over thirty years at a Celanese plant in nearby Virginia, working on shifts that rotated constantly, and he progressed up from introductory levels to become a widely respected foreman.


My father was active in the war effort in a different way. Dad was born in 1908. He started college and was good with numbers. He never graduated because the family lost their SW Virginia farm in the depression of 1928-30 and he was forced to withdraw from VPI, now called Virginia Tech. Later, he worked as a loan officer for the GMAC finance arm of General Motors. When the United States entered the war, GM stopped nearly all consumer products such as cars and trucks, as well as household appliances, and converted all factories to war vehicles and armament items. Dad was an older man, in his early-to-mid thirties, with one child (me) at the time. He had married a bit later and was around 33 when I was born in 1942. He was transferred from his base in Huntington, WV to Dayton, OH some time in 1943 and as far as I can tell, became the production control manager for a plant there that had been converted from making refrigerators to fifty-caliber machine guns. My sister was born in Dayton in 1945. After the war, GM reverted back to consumer items and cars and trucks, and Dad was transferred back to Huntington. At some time, he left GM with a plan to buy out the business at one of the GM dealers he had gotten to know in Paintsville, KY. That did not work out and (after one more stop in Galax, VA) we ended up in Princeton, WV where Dad ended his career as sales manager at a small Buick-Oldsmobile dealership.


My wife’s uncle, the oldest sibling on her mother’s side, served in the Navy and was lost when his ship was torpedoed by Japanese submarines in the Pacific. He survived the sinking, but was in very cold water for a long time before being spotted and picked up by another US naval ship. The exposure and chilling for an extended length of time turned out to be fatal, as he contracted neural complications and died young.


Another family story comes from a friend of mine in high school, a person of my own grade level and so about the same age. His/her (aha, no clues!) dad must have been somewhat older than the average recruit, and he volunteered at the age of 24 or 25. His wife was pregnant with my friend, so that was a huge decision. He had completed only an eighth grade education, but took a test to become a pilot and train at Texas A&M. He passed the test, but things were so dire in Europe that Uncle Sam shipped all the young men in school there over to France with the US Army. He did well with guns and marksmanship, was considered “older and wiser” by the younger men, and was given a battlefield (brevet) commission promotion to Sergeant. He was in the middle of action and was awarded two Purple Hearts, the second one from a serious leg wound that became infected with gangrene. His leg could not be saved, but he survived. His life itself would have been lost were it not for the new wonder drug of penicillin! Apparently many of his men commented on his heroism to his superiors and his family. Hearing the stories, it’s amazing that he survived.


These short stories are vignettes, among the many from the war. That generation … the men and women both … now are gone… the Greatest Generation. Let’s keep their memories so they are not forgotten.


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Enjoy life; it's the only one we will get.


J.K. (Jim) George


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14 Responses

  1. Jim, Excellent piece and a nice tribute. Mike
  2. Great stories ! My brother Bill Morse got out of high school in time for WWII, he wanted to be a pilot and volunteered for the Army Corp. Bill was sent to Porto Rico for flight training. Training was done in a bi-plane. If you took your time and carefully dipped Bill in milk and flour three times he would have weighed 135lbs . For a kid from Freer,Texas who consisted mostly of ears and legs the task was too much. Bill's account of the day he washed out of flight school has got to be one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. Bill was a great story teller and no story was done without a complete reenactment with Bill playing all of the parts. Bill was assigned to a bomber wing of B-17 as a nose gunner. He was the only member of his crew to come home alive . He worked on the King Ranch, Kingsville , Texas for 36 years for EXXON and died one month before he retired. I have a V-Mail letter Bill sent home to our parents framed in glass. It was the impressions of a kid out of high school from a town of 600 who had just arrived in London. He opened the letter by saying " They speak English over here but it is a different kind of English!" I had the great pleasure of crawling through a flying B-17 in San Antonio last summer and gained a huge appreciation of the courage those airman had to fly that plane into combat day after day. There was nothing between the crewman and a 20 mm round but a very thin metal covering. No place to hide , nothing to jump behind. Incredibly brave men flew the B-17 in Europe and the B-24 Mitchell's in the Pacific. Thanks for the great stories. Jerry
  3. Thanx much for sharing these real life experiences Jim.. Best: mac/mc
  4. Thanks for sharing. Stories such as those of your family need to be continuously shared because they tell people of today - who are lost in the maelstrom of our own daily existence - the essence of history which would otherwise be lost. Perhaps some of the essence of those terrible times will stick to us. History, if forgotten, will be repeated again and again.
  5. JK James George
    From Anon 1: Thank you, Jim. I wonder that many of us being similarly aged would have such stories to share. How I wish now that I’d had the presence of mind to write down some of the war stories told me by my mom and dad! I can still remember many of the war movies of the 40’s that became life-long memories. Any movie featuring airplanes or submarines were always at the top of my list. Again, thank you for rekindling some of these thoughts.
  6. JK James George
    From Anon 2: Thank you for sharing! I am on your email lists and always check out your posts, and I appreciate you cataloging so much family history here. I recently finished "The Cake Tree In The Ruins," a really beautifully written book written by a Japanese author. It's a collection of 12 short stories, that read a lot like fables, set in the days leading up to Japan's eventual surrender. I highly recommend reading it, especially as you've taken an interest in VE Day. It's heartbreakingly sad and beautifully written, and as you write in your blog, "keep[s] their memories so they are not forgotten."
  7. JK James George
    From Anon 3: Great stories! Of all the years I have known you, never heard these stories about Diana’s Dad or your Dad. Sad to me , most of today’s generation have no idea what sacrifices were made in WWII for our freedom. I try and share as much as I can with my grand kids, but not sure they understand it yet. Anyway, God bless our troops past and present. I am somewhat a student of the war and often watch the Military channel when documentaries of the war are shown. The most memorable time I ever had when traveling was a visit to Normandy a few years ago. Very heart wrenching. Someday, I will take all my grand kids there. Take care.
  8. JK James George
    From Anon 4: Hi Jim, I really enjoyed your VE day blog. Especially all the short stories. I am especially in awe of the bomber and fighter crews. I understand that at one point about 50% did not come back from missions. I had an older friend who had been a B 17 crew member and spent a long time in German POW camp.
  9. JK James George
    From Anon 5: Jim...... thanks so much! I was just starting my teens when war broke out so clearly remember the tenor of those days. The frightening war recaps each Saturday at the movies! The fear for my brother serving the US Air Corps in the China, Burma, India theater. The immense cohesiveness of ALL our country fighting a just war. AND the opportunity for me to meet he who would be my 57 year marriage partner. During WWII the government mandated that all Jr./Sr. HS students take a "war course" prior to graduation.....areas useful to the government should we still be at war upon graduation. AND it was then that I learned Morse Code. FULL CIRCLE. You have just reason to be proud of the service your family provided to aid and abet these United States of America. I am! BEST to you both!
  10. JK James George
    From Anon 6: Jim, Very interesting stories-thanks for sharing. Yes, that great generation long gone.
  11. JK James George
    From Anon 7: Your VE day comments were wonderfully inspiring. My father was born on the cattle ranch in Fowler, KS about 60 miles south of Dodge City in 1921. My family's history was in Western Kansas. Dad was not a big man, maybe 5-9 or so. He was the first of the family to venture off into the world. The rest of the clan remained on the ranch or nearby. He ended up working for Boeing Aircraft out of Wichita. When the war began, although he was involved in a "critical" industry, he tried to enlist. They rejected him because of a heart malfunction (not sure what it was, but he died of a heart attack at age 78). He did some work on B-17s for a number of years. The same plane Diana's dad flew in over Europe. He became an field engineer for Boeing. Interesting that you could be an aeronautical engineer before they knew that they were. The company eventually moved him to the B-29 program. He was pretty savvy on that plane. Boeing assigned him to Wendover Field in 1945 to work on the Enola Gay and Bock's Car. (That was Paul Tibbet's mother's name. Bocks Car was flown by Sweeney. See below). Dad had a couple of projects to figure out. One was the effect of carrying a 10,000 pound payload in a plane with twin bomb bays and a maximum payload capacity of 10K pounds. The second one had to do with the bomb-sight. I am not sure the issue on the sight. He told a couple of stories. He said the security was so unapparent there, you would have thought that there was none. He had my mother and brother there at the time and was running out of money. Finally, he went to the base commander and told him that he was running out of funds. He had been sending his weekly reports back to Boeing with his time sheets, but wasn't getting any response from them. The base commander reached down, pulled open a drawer and handed my dad all the envelopes. The base commander told him that if he needed money, just ask for it, but under no circumstances send a report back to Boeing. The second one was about Quality Control. He had been working on the bomb bay and thought he had it figured out exactly how the plane would react when the bomb was released. He went to Paul Tibbets and explained his theory. Paul looked at my dad and asked him if he was sure that would happen that way. My Dad assured him. Paul tells him "ok, grab your chute, let's go test it". I guess that's a story of putting your money where your mouth is. The group eventually went to Tinian Island for final departure. My Dad was scheduled to leave for Tinian when they moved up the bombing date due to the discovery of the ship carrying the bomb by the Japanese. So, he never went. He left Boeing after the war and tried farming back in Western Kansas. Farming must have been arousing for him and my mother, as I was born in Dodge City in 1947. He determined that Farming was not for him and returned to Boeing, working on the B-47 and the B-52.
  12. JK James George
    From Anon 8: Great story telling Jim. Bedtime reading for me with evocative memories of lives dedicated to all that we treasure and goodness knows how much we need more of this vintage of people in these dark troubling days. I grew up in the Scottish Highlands and the local Regiments were filled with heroes as you describe. Some great stories there and lives to be remembered , plus my two Grandfathers, one of whom fought in the Lovat Scouts in Gallipolli and then the trenches of France. My other Grandfather, Polish by birth but one of a huge number of Polish miners in North East France , was a member of La Resistance Polonnaise and the local radio operator for his group. Then my Dad ,a young teenager who also was part of La Resistance Polonnaise and used his munitions experience to sabotage Nazi installations and train lines before escaping from the Gestapo's search and ending up in Scotland. I hope we can share our stories one fine day. Stay safe and well my friend.
  13. JK James George
    From Anon 9: Would love to have been able to get (Anon 7's) father and my mother together for interviews. She was one of the QA inspectors on the Enola Gay and the other Silverplate B-29s built at Glenn L Martin in Omaha. I remember she had a fair amount to say about how the bomb bay doors had to be modified and gun turrets removed.
  14. JK James George
    From Anon 10: Wow! There are so many personal stories, anecdotes about the lives of actual individuals, that reveal the intimacies of war. Thanks for sharing! Best blog to date, I think!

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