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Waitman George Simons
1919-1945

"This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory."

Winston Churchill

Waitman George Simons was born in Volga, Barbour County, West Virginia, on August 13, 1919. His parents were Goff and Lucy Huber Simons. By 1940, the census takers found the family living in a home in Barbour County. Waitman had brothers and sisters: Myrtle, Nellie, Goff Jr., William, and JoAnn. Goff Simons Sr. was a coal miner. Prior to entering the service, Waitman Simons had a job driving a truck for a trucking company.

On February 10, 1942, Waitman Simons went to Ft. Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, and enlisted. U.S. Army World War II Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, show that he was single, without dependents, and had a grammar school education. No documents were found that tell us the route that Waitman Simons followed to become a tank crewman, but service records tell us that he attained the rank of Technician Fourth Grade, 795 (Tank Crewman). He was a member of Company C of the 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division.
Insignia of the 3rd Armored Division

Insignia of the 3rd Armored Division

Waitman Simons enlisted in 1942, but didn’t join his unit overseas until 1943. The Archives Library of Illinois contains a description of the path of the 33rd to war. Waitman Simons’ recoverable records are consistent with the movements and location of the 33rd; however, no direct proof of his participation in the storied campaigns of the 33rd was found. The 33rd was an original “Spearhead” unit:

It was activated at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, on April 15, 1941, by a cadre of 92 officers and 524 enlisted men from the 68th Armored Regiment (Light) of the 2nd Armored Division. The new organization was designated the 3rd Armored Regiment (Light), until May 12, 1941, when it became the 33rd Armored Regiment (Light). Lt. Colonel Robert W. Strong was the first commanding officer, and the unit trained on a small number of the old “Mae West” light tanks….

The 33rd Armored Regiment trained with the rest of the 3rd Armored Division at Camp Polk, Louisiana; Desert Center, California; Camp Pickett, Virginia; and Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Early in September, 1943, the regiment sailed for Europe on the John Errickson. Upon arrival in Great Britain, the men were stationed at Warminster, Wiltshire, England. During nine months of pre-invasion training, they maneuvered extensively over Salisbury Plain, engaged in practice landing operations up and down the British coast, and received special courses of instruction in various subjects.

Colonel Dorrance S. Roysden led the 33rd in its baptism of fire on bloody Haut Vents, Hill 91, in Normandy. In spite of serious losses, the combat team took the hill, was driven off, and came back to hold the ground a day later. In their first combat, here at Haut Vents, at Font Heberf, and Belle Lande, the men of the 33rd Armored Regiment, fighting alongside other units of Combat Command “B”, helped to turn back a vicious counter attack by Germany’s elite Panzer Lehr Division. (Source: University of Illinois Archives, “33rd Armored Regiment,” accessed 6 April 2016, http://archives.library.illinois.edu/about-us/program-areas/association-archives/3rdarmor/33rd-armored-regiment/.)

The 3rd Armored Division was called “Spearhead” or “The Third Herd”; the 33rd Armored Regiment, “The Men of War.” They truly were. The 3rd was called “Spearhead” because they were first through enemy lines. The division “spearheaded” the First Army through Normandy (Sources: U.S. Army Center of Military History, “Special Designation Listing, by Unit Number, accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/spdes-123-ra_ar.html; 3rd Armored Division (United States), accessed 8 April 2016, http://militarypower.wikidot.com/3rd-armored-division-united-states.) The 33rd was involved in many of the fiercest fights of World War II. Normandy was just the start.

From the 33rd Armored Regiment site at the Archives Library of Illinois we learn:

The 33rd Armored Regiment earned in furious combat the right to its monicker, “Men of War.” Spearheading the powerful drives of Combat Command “B” the regiment saw heavy fighting in all five western campaigns. The regiment took part in the closing of the Argentan-Falaise gap, the drive across France and Belgium to the Siegfried Line, and had the honor of being the first allied unit to enter Germany in force. In the Ardennes fighting and the Rhineland battles, the 33rd was again well represented, and in the final drives to isolate the Ruhr and to reach the Elbe River at Dessau, Colonel Welborn’s troops were constantly in the van of Combat Command “B.”

It was December 1944. Adolf Hitler attempted to split the Allied force with a surprise attack into the Ardennes Mountain region of the Western Front. German armies suddenly thrust through the Allied lines and pushed through the Ardennes. If you drew this excursion on a map, the front line began to appear bulged around advancing German troops. According to History.com,

On December 16, three German armies (more than a quarter-million troops) launched the deadliest and most desperate battle of the war in the west in the poorly roaded, rugged, heavily forested Ardennes. The once-quiet region became bedlam as American units were caught flat-footed and fought desperate battles to stem the German advance at St.-Vith, Elsenborn Ridge, Houffalize and, later, Bastogne, which was defended by the 101st Airborne Division. The inexperienced U.S. 106th Division was nearly annihilated, but even in defeat helped buy time for Brigadier General Bruce C. Clarke’s brilliant defense of St.-Vith. As the German armies drove deeper into the Ardennes in an attempt to secure vital bridgeheads west of the River Meuse quickly, the line defining the Allied front took on the appearance of a large protrusion or bulge, the name by which the battle would forever be known. (Source: History.com, “The Battle of the Bulge,” accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-the-bulge.)

This was the Ardennes-Alsace Campaign, also known as the Battle of the Bulge. The campaign period was December 16, 1944, through January 1945.

The Battle of the Bulge was the costliest action ever fought by the U.S. Army, which suffered over 100,000 casualties. Another hallmark of this campaign was the terrible weather. There was snow, ice, and temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The battle would not definitively belong to the Allies until the weather cleared and air support was able to intercede with strafing rounds, bombs, supplies, and paratroopers. (Source: TogetherWeServed.com, “T/4Waitman George Simons – Military Timeline,” accessed 8 April 2016, https://army.togetherweserved.com/army/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=SBVTimeLine&type=Person&ID=336743.)

According to the site “U.S. Army: Battle of the Bulge” (accessed 8 April 2016, http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/CGSC/CARL/nafziger/944ULAA.pdf), the 3rd Armored Division, 33rd Armored Regiment, arrived from the north on December 19, 1944. This was Waitman Simons’ unit, but where was Waitman Simons? While it is known that Waitman Simons was killed in action in Belgium on January 7, 1945, due to hostile action, the circumstances are not recorded. One site records his death as having happened in the Bra area of Belgium. (Source: 36air-ad.com, “Simon G Waitman,” accessed 8 April, http://36air-ad.com/names/serial/35275134.) The Bra area probably references the Province of Brabant, a province of Belgium that existed from 1830 until 1995, after which it was subdivided.

The Simons’ sad news was first recorded in a newspaper article, source unknown, explaining that Sergeant Simons “served with the First Army as a tank driver. Besides his parents he leaves three sisters and four brothers: Mrs. Ralph Green of Volga, Miss Nellie Simons of Pennsylvania, Junior, Bobby, William, James, Michael, Jo Ann, all at home, and his grandmother, Mrs. Pearl Kerr, of Volga.” Waitman Simons was initially buried in Europe, and his remains were sent back to Volga in 1947. The Philippi Republican reported first a memorial service held after his death, and, on November 18, 1947, his funeral:

A military funeral service was conducted Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock for T-4 Waitman George Simons, 26, son of Goff Simons and Lucy Huber Simons, of Volga, Barbour County’s second World War II war hero to be returned to the states for burial. The body arrived here last Saturday morning from Philadelphia, Pa., and was taken to the Stemple-Forman Funeral Home until time for services.

Technician Simons was killed in Belgium on January 7, 1945. He had been in the U. S. Army since February 9, 1942, and overseas several months.

headstone

Headstone erected by the Simons family in Mt. Vernon Cemetery

gravestone

Waitman G. Simons’ military gravestone

Waitman George Simons was awarded a Purple Heart. He is interred at Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Barbour County.

Article and photos provided by Cynthia Mullens
April 2016

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