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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Edsel W. Simons
1924-1946

"Today we come to the happy task of sending on her way the stateliest ship now in being. It has been the nation’s will that she should be completed, and today we can send her forth no longer a number on the books, but a ship with a name in the world, alive with beauty, energy and strength! May her life among great waters spread friendship among the nations!"

King George V on the Queen Mary launch in 1936

Edsel W. Simons was born in 1924 in Barbour County, West Virginia, to Arthur and Nettie Simons, according to West Virginia birth records. The 1930 Federal Census documents that Edsel was 8 years old, living at Pleasant in Barbour County, with his parents and his brother, then called Junior, and his sister, Ruby, who was 13. Arthur was employed in the mines. The 1940 census documents that Edsel was 16, living with his parents in Philippi, his brother, Arthur Jr., and Arthur’s wife, Helen. Edsel had completed eighth grade. Arthur was a coal cutter and Arthur Jr., a coal loader. According to his enlistment records, Edsel joined the Army on February 12, 1942, at Ft. Thomas, Newport, Kentucky. The enlistment record notes that he was single and without dependents, and his civilian occupation category was semi-skilled construction. By 1946, Edsel Simons was serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. His military occupational specialty was anti-aircraft artillery, automatic weapons crewman.

The record for Private Edsel Simons is sparse, but whatever his travels, training, and combat experience, in early 1946, he was still serving in the military, departed from England, and was aboard the RMS Queen Mary. A magnificent liner in her early years, at this time she was still employed in transporting troops back to the U.S. as well as families servicemen had acquired during the war. Now a floating hotel moored in Southern California, the ship’s website states:

For three years after her maiden voyage, the Queen Mary was the grandest ocean liner in the world carrying Hollywood celebrities like Bob Hope and Clark Gable, royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and dignitaries like Winston Churchill. During this time she even set a new speed record, which she held for 14 years. But when the Queen Mary docked in New York in September 1939 that would be the last time she would carry civilian passengers for many years.

As World War II started, the Queen Mary’s transformation into a troopship had begun. She was painted a camouflaged grey color and stripped of her luxurious amenities. Dubbed the “Grey Ghost” because of her stealth and stark color, the Queen Mary was the largest and fastest troopship to sail, capable of transporting as many as 16,000 troops at 30 knots. After the end of WWII, the Queen Mary began a 10-month retrofitting process, which would return the ship to her original glory. On July 21, 1947, the Queen Mary resumed regular passenger service across the Atlantic Ocean, and continued to do so for nearly two more decades. (Source: “The Queen Mary,” accessed 7 July 2016, http://www.queenmary.com/history/our-story/.)

The Queen Mary left Southampton, England, on December 29, 1945, and arrived at New York, New York, on January 3, 1946. On board were 11,346 troops and 846 crew. The passage took 5 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes, under Captain Illingsworth. (Source: “Queen Mary: Information About Specific Crossings,” and “Queen Mary: Record of Wartime Cruises,” accessed 21 July 2016, http://ww2troopships.com/ships/q/queenmary/crossings1946.htm and http://ww2troopships.com/ships/q/queenmary/cruiserecord1946.htm. This website cites Steve Harding’s Gray Ghost: The RMS Queen Mary at War as a source for information about specific voyages.) By the time the Grey Ghost arrived in New York, Pvt. Simons was dead. The cause of his death is not detailed specifically in any available official record.

Captain Will Kayne of the Queen Mary, in an e-mail on June 15, 2016, responded to the request for any records concerning Pvt. Simons’ death aboard the Queen Mary with the information that the National Archives suffered a fire in the 1950s that resulted in the destruction of the war records of [many of the servicemen returning on] the Queen Mary, except for the voyage logs.

Why Pvt. Simons died remains a mystery. The creator of Pvt. Simons’ memorial page on Together We Served indicates that Pvt. Simons’ casualty date was January 3, 1946. This is the date that the ship arrived in New York. Further, Pvt. Simons’ cause of death is “non-hostile – died of other causes” in the North Atlantic, but that the reason is “unknown, not reported.” On the same page, the author notes: “However, family records list his death as “homicide by unknown persons.” (Source: “Simons, Edsel W., Pvt.,” Together We Served, accessed 20 July 2016, https://army.togetherweserved.com/army/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=336741.)
headstone

Headstone for Edsel W. Simons, Mt. Vernon Cemetery, Barbour County. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens



Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
July 2016

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Edsel W. Simons

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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