Veteran remembers how he and four brothers served
May 28, 2011 at 12:28 a.m.
The Simms family tumbled out onto the porch, a boisterous happy group. It was 1945 and World War II was raging. All five brothers were enlisted, and they wore their Naval uniforms as they gathered in front of a white clapboard house in Houston to take a picture. The three sisters arranged their hair, and the five brothers adjusted their white caps, ready to smile for the camera.
Kenneth Simms, 83, was 17 years old when that photograph was taken. Now, he's the last of the siblings still alive. He poked a gnarled finger at the worn black and white image.
"That one's me," he said.
While his older brothers looked gruffly into the camera, he wore a wide boyish grin on his face. After years of watching his brothers go off to war, he was finally going too.
The clan arranged themselves in the front yard while an aunt waited to take the picture; the parents, Holland and Ima, followed by the three sisters, Wynona, Margie and Neoma, the five brothers, Eddie, Kenneth, Dudley, Euel and Jim, crouched in front. A click of the camera and the moment was caught, frozen in black and white.
On Dec. 7 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it "a day that will live in infamy," and the United States declared war on Japan the next day.
The youngest brother in the family, Simms watched all of his brothers enlist and go off to war once the United States entered the fray.
A few days later, the war that had been raging since 1939 became a reality for Simms, when Jim, the second-eldest, and Simms' favorite brother, enlisted in the Navy.
Jim was a tall man, Simms remembered, burly at 220 pounds and Simms' hero. He stuck up for his youngest brother, stopping the others from teasing him and taking him squirrel hunting, racing around the outskirts of town in an open topped Ford Model A.
Simms and the rest of the family went down to the Houston downtown train station, waving goodbye from the station platform as the train pulled out, taking the first Simms brother off to war.
About 13 years old when it started, Simms knew about the war, but he didn't understand what being a soldier meant until he heard about soldiers killed in action, brothers and fathers who would never be coming home.
"I was concerned, but I was so young. I did know the impact of it, and I knew people who were getting killed. You'd hear about somebody's dad or brother getting killed, and that was scary," Simms said, remembering.
The Simms family were farming people who had weathered the Great Depression, moving from the family farm to Houston in 1929. Simms' father worked as a janitor at Rice Institute (later Rice University). Despite living in the city, they were country people at heart, Simms' wife Beverly recalls.
"They were loud, and they liked to have fun and get together in big groups. They liked to have a good time," Beverly remembered.
The family gatherings got smaller and smaller as each of the brothers, in turn, signed up and shipped out.
Once he turned 17, Simms pestered his mother relentlessly to sign the forms allowing him to go into service underage.
"I don't know what she said about her last son going off. She must have thought I was crazy," Simms said.
He left Houston from the same train station his brothers had left from. There was even a girl running alongside the train as it pulled away from the station. "Like something out of a movie," Simms said, laughing.
He got to boot camp, and military life was a shock to the young Texan. His brothers, echoing his mother, had told him he was nuts to want to join.
"I figured I'd made a big mistake, just like everybody else did when they got in," Simms said. "Boot camp was hard. Then I decided to be a Seabee, and they trained us even harder."
The family was lucky - all five brothers made it through the war without even getting injured. Simms was stationed in Japan and spent his spare time selling cigarettes to the locals. When he'd earned enough points to go home, he was glad.
He came home, met and married Beverly, his wife of 63 years, and went to work for the telephone company in Houston. After 30 years there, he retired and the couple settled in Victoria.
Still, he didn't regret his service, he said. None of the brothers did, he said.
They didn't talk about it much after the war, Simms said. At family parties they preferred to laugh and have a good time. Serving was simply something you did for your country.
"I realized it was important. It was what needed to be done, and that's what we did," Simms said.