It’s the day of Bragg Jam and I decided to move. It’s also f-ing hot outside. Brilliant. It’s around 3:30 pm when I realize I have not eaten. At all. Except for coffee. So I’m dying and driving down Vineville when I see the Subway. I had planned on just going through a drive-thru (convenient AND I had promised my kids cookies from Starbucks) but something told me to stop in Subway. It’s sort of semi decent for you, right?
So I go in and there’s an older gentleman sitting at a table speaking to a couple who is standing. They leave, and I noticed his hat says “WWII Vet”. So I ask where he served (Korea) and tell him my grandfather also served.
Mr. Wanza Smith, as I later learn is his name, tells me well he must be around my age. All of us vets are in our late 80s. – Yes, but he passed away a few years ago. His name was Smokey Simmons. He was General Sales Manager at 13WMAZ for some years.- Oh well he was at the back of the line with me. Last name “S”. I made a career out of it. You got 2 hots and a cot a day, figured it wasn’t so bad!
And we chat some more, little things. I tell him my grandfather was shot down over Europe, that he was a POW in Stalag 17.
And this is when Mr. Smith says some thing that stand out to me. Something I’m embarassed I had not though of. He said, you know that Trump guy? What he said about McCain? He said what he did, and he doesn’t know. Money ruins you.
This was when I realized- Trump in some ways was speaking about my own grandfather. And so many others who have served for us. But this isn’t really about that.
I asked Mr. Smith if he had any kin here– No! I got two first cousins and 4 ex wives, I survived 6 wars! I’m free at last!
I laughed at that. But I edged my way out. You see, it had been a rough day for me so far, pretty emotional, and I wanted to do something for someone else. So earlier as I checked out I whispered to the cashier that I wanted to pay for his meal. She must have picked up on my not wanting him to know, because as he pulled out his cash she skillfully distracted him by asking again what he wanted on his sub. Didn’t you hear me say everything but peppers???
I excused myself and left. Our veterans of all wars are a treasure. I wish I knew my father’s father better, I assume he served as well. But my mother’s father, I’m lucky that even though he is gone there are many here who remember him. I’m lucky that I have a letter of recommendation from Former Senator Oliver Bateman, also a WWII hero who has since passed, speaking of my grandfather as a hero- that it was his “unflagging sense of humor and courage” that got him through. That my grandfather went back to war in Korea afterwards. I can’t even imagine it.
This isn’t really about politics at all- it’s about treasuring our veterans of all wars. But, as an aside, I sure would love for Donald Trump to tell me that this man- who was a POW- who went BACK to war- was not a hero. This man who sat in a prisoner of war camp for just over a year. Who, when asked, all he would say about the war was that they played pranks on the Nazis. (And later recounted that for Theatre Macon when they performed the play named for the camp.) You can read his obituary below and judge for yourself.
And if you know Mr. Wanza Smith, give him a hug for me. I’m lucky to have met him.
Macon- Herbert Elmo “Smokey” Simmons, Jr. was born March 4, 1923 and died January 3, 2010. He was predeceased by his mother, Wilma Griggs Simmons and his father, H.E. Simmons, Sr. Mr. Simmons attended Lanier High School and Mercer University where he was a member of the Kappa Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order.
In 1942, he joined the Army Air Force. He was stationed in England with the Eighth Air Force 445th Bomb Group. Mr. Simmons was shot down over France on April 1, 1944 and was captured by the Germans and held captive in Stalag 17B in Austria until May of 1945, when he was liberated by the Americans. He was awarded the Air Medal and Two Oak Leaf Clusters as well as the Croix de Guerre, along with many other awards. After returning home Mr. Simmons married Eugenia Corley and joined the Air Force Reserves.
He was commissioned Second Lieutenant and was called up during the Korean Conflict in 1951. He served as Public Information Officer at Robins Air Force Base and later in Seoul, Korea. Mr. Simmons retired after thirty-two years as the General Sales Manager at WMAZ.
He was a member of many organizations, including the Jaycees, the Macon Exchange Club, Moose Club, Elks Club, Riverside Golf and Country Club, and River North Country Club. From 1972-73 he served as President of Riverside Golf and Country Club and in 1982 he served as the Chair of the River North Men’s Golf Association. Mayor George Israel proclaimed March 29, 1985 as “H. E. “Smokey” Simmons’ Day” in Macon.
Mr. Simmons was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where he served on the vestry. Survivors include wife of sixty-three years, Eugenia Corley Simmons; daughter, Gena McWilliams (Rick); son, John Simmons of Jacksonville, Florida; grandchildren, Richard McWilliams and Molly Wilkins, both of Macon; great-grandchild, Bishop Wilkins of Macon; caregivers, Hattie Talton and Valencia Saye.