Why did I settle on Staff Sergeant Charles F. Simcox, Jr. as the subject of my research? My task was to identify a soldier buried at Luxembourg who came from Pennsylvania, preferably from near where I live. I had a lot of names to choose from (many Pennsylvania boys are buried there). My second choice was a Montgomery County pilot who flew troop planes. Charlie stuck out, though, for a few factors. The name mattered: distinct but not prone to misspelling. That he was from Chester County mattered, too. That was home to me growing up. That he had earned a Distinguished Service Cross and had risen to the rank of Staff Sergeant also suggested to me that there might be a significant paper trail. Of course I was wrong on that last point.
One of my most pleasant surprises came when I met his family. Charlie was one of eleven children. Two of his brothers are still alive. A significant number of nieces and nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews live and live in the area. They were very happy to talk with me and share what they knew about Charlie. Sadly, their knowledge was fragmentary. His living brother who could tell me the most was younger than Charlie by several years, so he couldn't recall too many details. A niece remembered his final visit home, on leave while transferring from one training post to another. Most memories of Charlie have faded with the passing of his mother and the older siblings.
But there was an unmistakable fondness for him. Even to those who never met him, he was "Uncle Charlie." There were tales and rumors of his mischief. There was reverence for how he was lost in the war. At least one member of the family had already made a visit to his grave in Luxembourg. And I guess it's here that the similarities to my grandfather first made sense. The way in which the clan talked, remembered, and laughed together reminded me a lot of the Smiths that I remember from my youth. Several households and generations that have a bond of familiarity with one another.
It was also noticeable to me how much the family's lot had improved over the generations. Charlie was born into a poor tenant farming family. He stopped school in eighth grade to help the family make ends meet. He worked in some relatively unskilled fields until it was time to report for duty. But the decades after the war were good for the family. The area in which they lived obviously prospered. Heck, Chester County in 2019 bears almost no resemblance to the rural landscape that would have characterized it in the 1930s. Families like the Simcoxes contributed to and benefited from the rising tide that was the postwar economy.
That was largely true for my grandfather's story as well. He worked forty years at a paper factory during an age where an industrial job could provide adequately for a family. My mom and uncle knew a significantly higher standard of living than my grandfather did on that farm on Nittany Valley's East End.
And then there's the sadness knowing that Charlie didn't get to enjoy that himself. Had Charlie returned, I can see him settling down, marrying, and raising another household in that Simcox clan. I see him taking much the same path my own grandfather took, and I'm sad that Charlie didn't get to live that out like Pap did.
Both Pap and Charlie served as common soldiers. Pap never rose higher than Corporal in the service. Charlie was a PFC most of his time in the Army until a very sudden series of promotions occurred in that last month. I know Charlie saw fierce fighting. Pap was on Pelilieu, in a battle that Robert Leckie of the Marines described as a Holocaust.
Pap was lucky and fortunate. Charlie was lost.