Harold Simler was born in Ridott Township near Freeport, Illinois in 1935. Harold Simler went to school through the 8th grade and then started work at farming and other occupations. Upon turning 18 in 1953, Harold Simler volunteered for induction at the local draft board. He says he had been inspired by John Wayne movies and hoped to participate in actual combat. He was trained as a cannoneer and truck driver serving with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Harold Simler describes why he wanted to be in combat. He shares his disappointment when we learned that he wasn't needed in Korea. As an 18 year old, he had visions of John Wayne movies encouraging action.
Korean Vet Joins His Unit
Harold Simler recounts a Korean War veteran joining his unit at Fort Bragg. This vet helped him learn his job but also helped him get into trouble. Harold SImler joined the veteran for a night out that had consequences.
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Harold Simler: Harold Simler. H-A-R-O-L-D S-I-M-L-E-R.
I: And–and is that German name, or?
I: Is it?
I: Hm. So, you are German American?
H: No, I’m–well, yes I’m American. I–
H: Both my grandparents were–came from Germany.
I: Oh. What is your birthday?
H: October 18, 1935.
I: You are a young man.
I: And where were you born?
H: I was in–on a– out in the country in–in Ridott Township.
I: Here in Freeport?
H: Yes. Its–
I: Hmm. And tell me about your parents when you were growing up and your siblings. What–what they were doing?
And your sibling, how many and so on.
H: My dad was a farmer and well, my mother was–was raised on a farm and I have–had three brothers
I: Three brothers.
H: And two of them passed away now, and there’s the oldest one and me left.
I: How about school that you
went through? Did you graduate Freeport high school?
H: No, I went 8 years and then I went worked on the farm.
I: Worked on the farm.
I: So, when did you join the military?
H: I turned out–turned 18 in October and–and I went right to the draft board and volunteered for induction.
Because my mother wouldn’t sign when I was 17, so.
I: So, 1953?
H: Yes, I turned 18 in ’53 and then I–it was in June of ’54 that they sent me for a physical and induction.
I: June 1954?
I: Uh-huh. And you volunteered or you are drafted?
H: Yeah volunteered for induction.
H: At I got by with two years that way, so.
I: Where did you go the–go for the basic training?
H: Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
H: and then to Camp Chaffee Arkansas. And they
didn’t want any– didn’t need any troops in Korea anymore. So, they’re was either going to have to stay in Camp Chaffee as–as truck driver or something like that,
H: or someplace else. And so, I volunteered for airborne and I went to
Fort Bragg North Carolina 82nd.
H: Yes. And–
I: Tell me about the airborne training. Was it hard to– to get it? The training?
H: It wasn’t really anything you couldn’t stand, but it was–it was intense.
What kind of training did you get it?
H: Well, pre-airborne was a lot of push-ups.
H: and–and runs and we–and then after–after pre airborne I forget how many weeks of actual shooting up and going in the
mock tower and learning how to land and–and different things and–
I: Did you jump?
H: Yeah, the last week we had five jumps.
I: Five jumps from the airplane?
H: Yes, yeah.
I: How was it?
H: It–it was–it was quite intense for the ride and everything, but once you get out
and you feel the chute open it’s the post peaceful feeling in your life.
I: You didn’t worry that what if parachute doesn’t open?
H: Well, it–it you’re thinking about it all the w–all the while in the plane, but once you get out and feel that chute open and–and–it’s the most peaceful feeling in your life.
It–there’s no noise, there’s–and you’re–as you get closer to the ground you hear a voice.
I: No wounds or injured when you landed in the land?
H: Well, one time it was pretty windy and–
H: and I done a rear landing and I hit my head really hard. I seen stars for a while after that, but–it
I: [laughing] how many stars?
H: How many stars? [laughing]
I: Yeah [laughing]
H: How many did God create? [laughing]
I: [laughing] right. So, when you were told that you don’t need–they don’t need any more– they don’t need you anymore in Korea ho–how did you think about that?
I: Did you–
I I was somewhat disappointed.
H: I mean, I–I volunteered if that’s–if that’s what they wanted me for, I was–I was willing to go, but I’m–I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get to go.
I: You wanted to go to war?
H: I was 18.
H: And I’d seen a few John Wayne movies and–
In my mind, that’s who I was.
I: Yeah. So after you’re done with the whole training, what did you do?
H: I did a airborne tra–after the airborne training, I was in an artillery unit and we went out and practiced and–and–
just regular boring every day stuff.
I: Where were you?
H: At Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
I: North Carolina?
I: Mm-hmm. And what was your rank?
I: PFC? How much did you paid? How much did you get, actually?
H: With jump pay, it was $95
H: No, no, $95 plus $50 was $145.
I: and $50?
I: So, all together $145?
I: In 1954 or 5?
I: That was not too bad.
H: No, no that was good pay and–
and I –for the most part I enjoyed it–it–when it was a lot of boring time doing every day stuff and–
I: Were there any combat mission, not in the United States, so–
I: It’s gotta be boring, right?
H: Yeah. And
I had an opportunity to volunteer to go to Germany and I forget what unit it was– it was–it — I declined from that and–
I: Why? Why did you decline?
H: At the time, it–it was just bored with the Army and I would’ve had to take another year
I: You just lost your interest?
H: Yeah and–
I: So, what was your specialty?
H: Well, I was a cannoneer and a truck driver and– well, when I– the unit was almost–
they’re–there weren’t many in the unit and there was three–three recruits plus myself and there was a corporal, no he was a PFC at the time, but he– he was a truck driver. And they made me the–I had time and grade over the other two,
and so they made me chief of section. And I was–I didn’t know what to do or anything.
H: I just finished, you know, artillery training and they and went down there and I had–was trained of what to do but I–forgot
but there was a–a–a Korean Veteran in the–in the section and he–he wa–
I: Oh, they came back from Korean War?
H: Yes. And he was–he told me what to do and everything. Well, to make a story short, is–he had after–he was an SFC when he came back from Korea
and when he got civ–civilian or–non–non-combat area he liked to drink and party and so, he got busted several times
H: and he was a E–E-2 and the time so, I–so he– he helped me a lot that first day.
H: But aft–we was–we done real good out at the firing range and everything and they–you know, the old man came around and told me how good I’d done and everything and I was–my buttons were busting and we get back to the battery are and this–this–
veteran he told me, we’ll–we’ll clean that up tomorrow, lets go to town. So I–I–he was right about everything else, but he sure led me astray there. [laughing]
H: Because that was my last day of chief of section. [laughing]
I: [laughing] so, you were fired?
I: After that?
H: Yeah he–yeah he
I: Thanks to Korean War Veteran, right?
H: Yeah he-he–the–the the old man he, he was going to court martial me for stacking the tools in the shed and not cleaning them up or anything, but nothing happened to that. They–they just didn’t let me be chief of section any more.
I: [laughing] tell, so you had a very good relationship with the Korean War Veterans who came back from Korea?
H: Oh yes, I did.
I: What did they–do you remember what do they tell about what did they tell you about the Korean War? Their experience anything you remember? Just share that.
H: No, I–I don’t remember what he did say, but he–he–he knew how to
conduct a fire mission and–and–
I: Of course, he’s been firing there for a long time, right?
H: Yeah, he–he he was right about everything, except what to do when we get back to the battery area.
I: Cleaning at those stuff, right? Miscellaneous. [laughing]
H: Then he–he had a big chuckle about it the next day
when–after I got chewed out and he had a big chuckle about that.
I: So, you had a good time with him?
H: Oh, yeah. He–he–he was my–my kind of–of soldier. And
I: So, when were you discharged?
H: In June of ’56 or–I got a–a I had a sort of an 8 year reserve, but I got a discharge in–in–
I: And what did you do after you ret–retired?
H: I went back to
H: Microswitch was a division of Honewell then.
I: What kind of work did you do that–in Honeywell?
H: Just factory work.
H: Then I transferred to screw machine and that was more of a–spindle lathes.
I: So, when did you join the Chapter 105 here?
I: Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 150?
H: Oh–when was it–in–in 2014 I went to VetsRoll and–and met this–Fred, I forget his last name. But, he told me he was–
he wanted me to come to–
H: A meeting.
H: And he–and in the meantime, I–he would–I think hospitalized and–and I–I didn’t–I put it off for a whole year and, but–
I: So, you are new to the chapter?
I: You are new to the chapter?
H: And well, it, when I got out of the–when I got my discharge, I went to–went out to VFW and they–I–I didn’t qualify for a membership there so–
I: Yeah, that’s for the–
H: And I–I didn’t know about the Korean War Veterans Association.
H: Until I went to VetsRoll
and–and–and Fred told me oh no, you don’t have to–all you have to do is serve during that time period
I: During the Korean War, yeah.
H: Yeah, and so, I–well that was a year later, but I went out and joined then.
I: Do you–have you been to Korea at all?
I: No. Do you know about Korea?
H: Just–just what I’ve been reading since.
I: Yeah, tell me about those, please.
H: I–I they–what I read is–it was awful cold and–and damp and–and I actually didn’t know anybody that went to Korea.
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