Hooper veteran endured horror of WWII, remembers joy of those he liberated

Nov 7 2011 - 6:53am

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NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Eldin E. Simpson holds his uniform from World War II in Hooper on Tuesday.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Eldin E. Simpson holds medals he earned, including a Purple Heart, for his service during World War II.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Eldin E. Simpson holds his uniform from World War II in Hooper on Tuesday.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Eldin E. Simpson holds medals he earned, including a Purple Heart, for his service during World War II.

HOOPER -- Like so many veterans of World War II, Eldin Simpson rejects the hero status so many people want to attach to him.

His country needed every soldier it could train in 1943, and Simpson ached so badly to serve that he rejected the deferment his father had secured that would have let him stay home safe on the family farm in Hooper.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army just after high school graduation, was trained at Fort Knox, Ky., and made it to England in time to join the D-Day invasion.

Before he returned home, Simpson, now 87, saw history unfold firsthand, received a Purple Heart for combat wounds and experienced horrors he still can't forget.

"As we sailed out of New York Harbor and passed the majestic Statue of Liberty, I really wondered if I would ever return to this great land of America, since we had been told many of us would not be coming back ... and many I knew didn't," he said.

Once in Plymouth, England, there were more months of intense training for the coming invasion of France. Then on the night of D-Day, June 6, 1944, they sailed across the English Channel to the Normandy beachheads in France.

"What a sight we saw the next morning; hundreds and thousands of ships were in the channel. You could almost step from one to the other."

On the day after D-Day, his group went ashore to replace the soldiers who had been killed or wounded the day before. He said they were all so scared as they waded through the waves and advanced up the beach "faster than the German gunners could kill them."

The days during World War II were so painful, he didn't speak of them for 35 years. But he says it is important for young people to know the price that has been paid for the freedoms they enjoy today. That's why Veterans Day is so important to men like Simpson, so people who haven't experienced war can learn from those who have.

"This was the beginning of months of trying to stay alive with people trying to kill ya," Simpson said. "All around us we saw the terrible destruction of lives and property."

Simpson was a radio operator in a reconnaissance squad, so it was his job to keep track of the enemy and send back information to the command. Most of the time he was in the point vehicle, an armored car, and his squad was the first to go into enemy territory and behind enemy lines.

He saw death and destruction beyond what he ever could have imagined as a naive farm boy.

"The fatigue, fear, loneliness, rain and fog, mud, long night marches, the sheer horror of war was never-ending," he said.

Simpson was blown out of his armored car when it ran over a land mine. A piece of flying metal gashed his face, but medics patched him up right there on the battlefield. He was awarded the Purple Heart, and was immediately sent back into action.

"We fought our way across France, Belgium and into Germany," he said. "Our 4th Cavalry Group unit was the first to cross the pre-war German frontier. I watched my lieutenant blow up the barricade across the border and open the way for our armored car column to enter. We moved on to the bombed-out city of Berlin, where we were met by Russian troops."

By December 1945 the war had ended and troops were coming home. Simpson arrived in Salt Lake City at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve, endured orientation at Fort Douglas and got a three-day pass to go home.

He arrived home around midnight Christmas Eve for a joyful surprise reunion with his family.

Three days later, he received an honorable discharge from the Army.

He married, had five children and became a barber.

When the bad memories of the war haunt him, he turns his thoughts in another direction.

"But we had some joy too," he recalled. "The people were so happy and joyful to see us as we passed through their war-torn towns. I will always remember the bells. When we heard them, we knew the enemy had already left as we marched in.

"To this day, I love the sounds of bells chiming in towers."

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