Author's Name: Dennis Lane
Title: "Remembering Special Five Harold Joseph Simmons"
Harold was a childhood friend and was born on November 28,1945. His mother abandoned him early in life, and his father ignored him. He had a younger brother Johnny but he died several years ago. He has no family alive. He dropped out of high school, was immediately drafted and served as a Combat Engineer in Vietnam from October 1967-March1968 for nearly 6 months. He died at the age of 22 from hostile fire.
During my first trip to the wall, I made a rubbing of his name on a memorial brochure. Later I had it framed for my parents because they knew him well. Three of their own sons had served in the U.S. Army during this era – two in Vietnam and one in West Germany. When I gave them the framed rubbing, their reaction was very subdued they were relieved because neither my brothers or I were listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Harold’s death has always haunted me because I knew his background growing up.
While watching the preview for the 18-hour Ken Burns’ documentary on the war. I saw the families in the final segment discussing how important The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was to them. I realized that Harold had no one who would remember him. I shared this with the others serving on the local Ken Burns’ documentary committee. They told me that they would also remember Harold.
Harold came from a background that produces cannon fodder in every war. He was a surly young man and wasn’t friendly with most people. I remember clearly the last time I saw him the day before leaving for Vietnam. He avoided eye contact with everyone. I hope I told him to be careful. I don’t remember if I said anything. It was nearly 50 years ago. At the time, I didn’t understand why he was such a jerk.
Now I understand why Harold was angry at the world. However, I know he’s not the only young man listed on the Wall that no one will remember. The Vietnam soldier was sharply stigmatized because it was thought most couldn’t get into college, couldn’t afford it or both. Some even had the choice of going to jail or signing up for the draft.
I strongly encourage you to visit the memorial’s website. https://www.nps.gov/vive/index.htm. You’ll have the option of looking up the names which also includes background information on the dead soldiers. You can also look up the by state and town. You’ll be taken back when you see how many young men from the Saint Louis area died in Vietnam https://www.vetfriends.com/memorial/mem_alphab.cfm?war_id=4&page_id=1&states_id=27. I’m sure you’ll recognize several last names of families who lost someone in the Vietnam War.
I think it’s especially important to do this so that you realize the impact the Vietnam war had on our community and other communities. Perhaps you’ll say to someone you know what I say to Harold Simmons, “I remember you.”
Harold Joseph Simmons