Interview with Hal Simons, Honor Flight Recipient and Midway Library Volunteer

*Hal and his Guardian from the Honor Flight on 20191006

  1. Hal, how did you get selected for your Honor Flight? Did you have to apply?

Wapakoneta, Ohio is the home of Neil Armstrong, and I usually fly back there in July to see my cousin and to celebrate the town’s “Moon Day.” I always fly into Dayton and cousin Kent and his wife Becky pick me up and drive me back to Wapak.

A couple of years ago in the Dayton airport I saw a picture of a group of Veterans who had just returned from an Honor Flight to see the Washington, D.C. Veterans Memorials. On-line I found that Dayton’s honor flight was for WWII and Korean Vets, but here in San Diego it was just for WWII Vets. Anyway, I wanted to get to see the WWII Memorial, so I filed an on-line application and emailed it to a local address. I began answering all calls from the San Diego area codes and those from the Washington D.C. area codes that might be about an Honor Flight and ignoring all other calls I didn’t recognize.

I had just about given up on the flight when for some reason I answered a call from a Washington State area code. It was Mel, a coordinator for the next Honor Flight! She sent me an itinerary and a couple of release forms and said I could go on the next flight in October. Mel now lives in the San Diego area after moving from somewhere in Washington State. She kept her old phone number. Area codes can be deceiving.

This flight consisted of a few WWII veterans and the rest were Korean veterans. There was also a WAC and her female in-service Guardian.

  1. Will you have a Guardian on your flight? Do you get to choose or is one provided for you?

I had read in one of our older “Currents” museum magazines that Jill Hammons was thrilled to go on an Honor Flight as a Guardian, as a guardian I presume, .and I thought that I might be able to take my niece as my Guardian. However, Mel said that my Guardian, Annie, would be provided. Later I learned that the Guardians would pay $750 for the flight.

  1. What did you see in Washington, DC? Have you been to DC before this?

As shown in the itinerary I emailed, it was a visit mostly to the Veteran’s Memorials for each service, the Lincoln Memorial and a couple of museums.

My wife, Jan, and I had been to DC years ago before they were planning on a WWII Memorial and that is the one Memorial that I really wanted to see.

  1. What was your favorite thing to do while you were there? guard at the tomb of the unknowns

The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Korean War Memorial were my favorite sites. The Korean, not because it was my era , but for the depiction of the thirteen soldiers in their ponchos, on the alert, slogging through the fields. There is a granite wall there with ghostly figures etched into the surface. Everything was very sobering.

Korean War Memorial

It seems that Veterans who saw action rarely talk about their service, but on this trip among fellow veterans they opened up on their experiences. My favorite thing to do was to listen to the heroes tell their stories.

  1. What service were you in and where/when did you serve?

I joined the Navy in 1952 and after a year of schooling I was assigned to VS-23, an anti-submarine squadron< at North Island. They were flying Avenger Hunter-Killer (HUK) teams for about a year before switching over to the new twin engine, all-in-one S2F ASW aircraft.  Then more training on the new S2Fs.

In December 1954 my squadron was deployed aboard the USS Princeton (CVS-37) for a seven-month cruise patrolling the waters around Japan and Okinawa. We had R&R in Hong Kong before we were called to run ASW coverage in the Taiwan Straits for the 7th fleet during the first Matsu-Quemoy crisis.

Seven months later we returned to San Diego. With a turn-over of officers and crew the squadron began another training period. We were to redeploy in June or August and since I was to be discharged in October, I was transferred to FASRON-110 in the big concrete hangars on North Island. From there I was volunteered to fly radar in an R4D along the DEW Line Radar stations from Pt. Barrow, AK to the Canadian border

  1. What did you do after you got out?

After discharge I worked for General Dynamics for 33 years. I worked in the environmental testing division on such projects as the Atlas ICBMs, the Mercury 7 Atlas launch vehicles, the Atlas Centaur satellite and planetary probe launch vehicles, and finally as test conductor for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile.

  1. How did you happen to become a library volunteer?

After Jan passed away, I found myself taking root as a couch potato. I found a site on the internet that listed places that needed volunteers. Since I was Navy, I filled out an application for the Midway library and Laurie set me up for an interview.

  1. How long have you been a volunteer?

I came onboard the Midway In mid-December of 2015 and my work (fun) station has always been the library or the bookstore.

  1. What are your responsibilities on the Midway?

Most of the time I’m on special projects and I fill in when or where I’m needed.  (Hal is being way too modest.  He  has done everything from being a book seller to scanning old  Midway newspapers and plans of the day to looking up names in the Master Crew List when a guest  comes up the ladder to the library to look for himself, a relative or a friend.  He does all of these with the best attitude and proficiency.)

  1. Is there anything you would like to volunteer of wish I had asked about you?

In the SWA departure terminal I was honored to meet my Guardian “Angel” Annie Alessio, a most beautiful person. This was her third trip as a Guardian, and she stuck with me for the whole trip.

During the flight about half-way to the Baltimore airport the flight attendants had Mail Call. Each veteran received a large packet of about fifty thank-you letters from all ages two years and up. A second package contained letters and other goodies from family and friends. A final package was a goodie type care package from Operation Gratitude. I’m going to be busy answering all the mail that had return addresses or email addresses – but I will answer them.

When we stepped off the plane in Baltimore we were greeted by many well-wishers and by airport Honor Flight hosts.  Sometimes two or three Honor Flights fly into BWI in one day.

We filled three coaches and were led by a motorcycle escort to the Arlington National Cemetery, while police cars with flashing red lights blocked traffic at intersections to allow through passage. That was Special!

There were big crowds at all the Memorials with lots of hand shaking and thankyous. We were able to visit the Memorials for World War II and up through the Vietnam War. The pillars n the WWII monument representing each State are arranged outward in the order of their entry in the Union. 4,000 sculpted gold stars represent the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives during WWII. We were asked, “How many monuments are there in the Mall? The answer: One, the Washington Monument, the rest are Memorials.” We were tasked with finding the two ”Kilroy Was Here” symbols at the World War II Memorial: Annie and I found them both.

I enjoyed the museum at the Navy Yard, but I favored the Electronics Museum across the street from our hotel. It traced the evolution of electronics from static electricity, through vacuum tubes, radar, GPS and to the latest electronic warfare systems. I was happy to see an APS-4 radar system out of its shell. This is the type radar that is enclosed in a white “bomb” hanging under the right wing of our TBM Avenger. It is an A-Scan radar where “blips” along a straight line indicate size and range to a target. When I was first assigned to VS-23 we did maintenance on this type of early radar.

Midway staff waiting to greet Hal when he returned from his Honor Flight.jpgThe homecoming reception was fantastic. I could hardly believe there were that many people there.  As I walked through the crowd with Annie a young blonde girl scout offered a card pinned with a  hand painted American flag shaped like a star. I treasure that gift and plan to wear it wherever I go.

I’ve rambled on enough. It’s like if you ask,  ”What time is it,” and the answer is how a watch is made.

US Navy crest11.   How did you chose the Navy as your service?  (This was a question based upon extra information that Hal volunteered in his responses.)

I was in the Navy from October 1952 to October 1956. I married Jan, my Lima, Ohio high school girlfriend, after graduation in 1950. Then President Eisenhower sent a letter asking me to prepare for induction into the armed forces, aka. Army. I had a choice of the Army for two years in Korea slogging it out on the ground or the Navy with hot food and a warm bed for four years. I chose the Navy.

Because it gets very cold at the Great Lakes boot camp, Jan and I made plans to go to San Diego and enlist there. It made sense since Jan’s sister was already there. and her Mother and Stepfather were soon to follow.

We packed our belongings into two bushel baskets, loaded them in the trunk of our 1941 Chevy and started off for San Diego by way of Route 66. We arrived in San Diego about a week later. I went to the Navy recruiting center to enlist and they couldn’t take me because their quota was full. I told them I was about to be drafted and they gave me a test to see if I was worth putting on the waiting list.

After sponging off of Jan’s sister for about a week, we moved into a one-room apartment in Ocean Beach and I applied for a job with Convair as a pattern maker. They hired me to start the next Monday. On Sunday I got a call from the recruiter telling me to get on a bus to El Centro where I could enlist.  I did and was enlisted there ; sworn-in in LA and sent back to San Diego’s boot camp.

After boot camp I went to Aviation school in Norman, Ok and then to Millington, TN for AT (A) school where I was taught electronics from vacuum tube theory to airborne search radar. On completion of school I managed to get assigned to AIRASRON-23 on North Island. There, I was an Aviation Electronic Technician maintaining ASW gear on TBM Avenger Hunter-Killer (HUK) teams. The Avengers were soon replaced by twin-engine, single body S2F (HUK) aircraft.

 

*Hallettes waiting to welcome Hall a the San Diego airport upon his return from Washington, DC 6 Oct 2019

*Apologies to Hal for intially adding a second m to his name. (Pat)

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Interview with Hal Simons, Honor Flight Recipient and Midway Library Volunteer”

  1. Thanks to Pat for the questions and to Hal for the narrative. It was a wonderful description of the Honor Flight. Hal is a great asset to the Midway Library. He usually puts in 150 hours a month. He is now the expert on scanning and creating .pdfs. He didn’t mention that his niece and her husband drove over from Arizona to welcome him back home. What a special person Hal is! Thanks for this blog, Pat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I did not realize about the niece and her husband. What a super fellow and we are SO LUCKY that he has elected to associate with us on the Midway. Wish we could score a few more like him (not that there could be…) Thanks for commenting.

      Like

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