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Eulogizing Charlie

By Charlie's graveside in Luxembourg. 

You may find the eulogy I wrote for Charlie interesting. I have it copied here.

The marker by which we stand today identifies Staff Sergeant Charles F. Simcox, Jr., as a hero who gave his life in service to our nation. Before entering the service, his family knew him as Charlie. To this day they keep the memory of Charlie, or Uncle Charlie, alive. Many of the members of this closely-knit group still live near West Chester, Pennsylvania, where Simcox grew up. They have not grown apart in the decades of peace and prosperity that Simcox’s service and sacrifice made possible.   

Something that I wanted to convey, but that seemed very difficult to convey, was the joyous and warm sense of his family. When I reached out to them this winter, they were more than happy to meet with me. I felt like something of a guest of honor. And so many of them came out to meet me that I lost track of who was who. A warmly receptive family isn't a given in doing work like this. My attempts to reach out to my silent hero's family last year failed. Cathy told me that her silent hero's family (World War I fatality) tried to erase memory of him.

As the middle child of a large family, Charlie Simcox might strike us as an ordinary figure. However, he was someone on whom the family could rely. The father after whom Simcox was named died in an accident when Charlie was twelve. Charlie, along with his brothers, then worked to support the family. The family adored his mischievous and energetic personality which lightened the mood in a family that struggled through the hardships of the depression. His resourceful and sharp-witted mother was particularly fond of him and grieved his loss. She remained active with local Gold Star Mothers group to honor the legacy of her son. And she helped keep alive the stories of what Charlie was like so that siblings, nieces, and nephews, even those who never met him, could recall him fondly. 

Charlie was one of three men in the family to serve his nation in wartime, though he was the only one to die in the line of duty. Simcox’s military records have been mostly lost. But the details we do know about him tell a remarkable story about the man we are honoring today.  

Charlie is the fourth serviceman whose story I've gotten to know well since 2017. He's the one that most reminded me of my grandfather. Civilian circumstances. Personality. Family. Pap was fortunate, though, to come home, as did the friends and siblings I know of. That being said, my grandfather's brother, Dick, suffered terribly in civilian life, struggling with alcoholism.

We know from this headstone that Simcox was a soldier in the 80th Infantry Division. The 80th came ashore in August 1944 and almost immediately found themselves in action. The division saw nearly continual fighting from their arrival until Germany’s surrender. They participated in the encirclement of enemy forces at the Falaise Pocket. They liberated French territory along the Moselle River. And while preparing for an assault on Germany’s Western Wall, the 80th was called north to answer Germany’s surprise Ardennes Counteroffensive, an operation most commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, Simcox’s regiment was the first element of General Patton’s Third Army to arrive in Luxembourg to relieve the beleaguered paratroopers in the Ardennes. 

Charlie's story was difficult to tell because the dearth of documentary evidence. His file was lost in a fire that took place in the 1970s at the St. Louis annex of the National Archives. This is the case with many G.I.'s files from World War II (including Pap's). The advice I was given early on was to focus on his unit's history. And his unit certainly had a story to tell.

Staff Sergeant Simcox fought with the 1st Battalion of the 317th regiment and he represented the best his unit had to offer. A newspaper account claimed that his comrades considered him to be the finest Browning Automatic Rifle man in A Company. The Distinguished Service Cross he was awarded represents Simcox’s skill and courage on a September day when he neutralized one German machine gun position, then captured another that had been menacing another battalion. He was wounded in fighting later that day. His selfless actions that day earned him the U.S. Army’s second-highest award for valor.  

After returning to his unit in December, he was rapidly promoted, first to corporal, then to sergeant, then to staff sergeant in just one week. His courage and soldierly qualities made him a leader within this experienced and tenacious regiment as it worked to hasten the collapse of the German army.  

Beginning of a 1946 newspaper article on Charlie. 

Much of what you have just read came from a newspaper article that, as far as I know, is the only written account that exists of what Charlie did to have been worthy of being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. This newspaper article was a very late discovery in the process, something sent by a child of another veteran of the 317th regiment. NHD puts out press releases with the hope of generating publicity that might knock loose artifacts like this. A press release begets an article or interview, an article or interview begets a historical gem like this. My research with Charlie reminded me of the role luck plays in research.

That Charlie had won a DSC made his record stand out from those I could choose from. My job, by the way, was to identify one soldier from my home state and hopefully from near where I lived. I had many names from which to choose. The state from which the most soldiers buried at Luxembourg National Cemetery entered the service is Pennsylvnia.

The numbers of killed, missing, and wounded from their time in the European Theater suggest that Simcox’s regiment, the 317th, was no ordinary unit. It was one that fought relentlessly against a determined opponent, and which suffered many losses as a result. In one four-week span during August and September, the regiment suffered 3,000 casualties, an amount roughly equal to the unit’s entire complement of men. Simcox was among the number of wounded that month. Three months later in December, the regiment lost another 1,200 men. And on Christmas Eve, the day on which Charlie was killed, vicious fighting cost his battalion alone 197 casualties.

Charlie's story was a good representation of the best and most sad elements of his unit's story. They suffered a significantly large number of casualties. I found it meaningful that Charlie's wounding in September and death in December came at times where the unit's suffering was most acute.

The contributions and sacrifices made by Staff Sergeant Chalres F. Simcox are representative of a generation to whom we owe a great deal. Born and raised in hardship, he served with a dedicated group of soldiers though many costly battles. In defeating the enemy, they made possible an era of peace that allowed families like the Simcoxes to prosper and know a better life than they had known before the war. Charlie Simcox didn’t get to enjoy that peace with his family, but his family has not forgotten what he meant to them and what he did for them. Nor has his country. 

----

A snippet of my email dialogue with Lauren.

A eulogy like this is stronger only with the help of friends and colleagues. I ran a draft of it by my friend and former student, Lauren, who did this work in 2017. Her input was very helpful in helping me re-sequence the elements of an early draft that disappointed me. Cathy shared stories from her fallen hero that reminded me of how special contact with Charlie's family was. And Christopher, a professor who accompanied the trip, helped me figure out how to work with the reality that there wasn't much paperwork for my fallen hero.

Thank you for reading.

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