S1c Walter Hamilton Simon

Unknown Sailor

S1c Walter Hamilton Simon

Seaman Walter Hamilton “Bill” Simon wrote often to his ailing father and teen-aged sister in Collingswood, New Jersey barely five miles east of Philadelphia. 

He sent his first letter home on Oct. 16, 1940, the day he enlisted in Philadelphia. On the back of the Oath of Allegiance he wrote: “Arrived OK. Had my first meal in the Navy. It was beans. I’ll write soon as I land at Newport [Naval Training Station]. It’s swell so far.”

His mother, L. Estelle Downs Simon, had died in May 1939. His father, William, a chiropractor, suffered from diabetes. His sister, Louise, helped care for their dad. She started dating and landed her first job — at a five-and-dime — after her brother left for the Navy.

“You keep on being a good girl because it won’t hurt you a bit,” he advised her in one letter. “Say, what’s this I hear about you missing me so much?” he wrote in May 1941. “I miss you and Dad too, Dutch, but don’t let it get you down because I’ll be home before you know it. Look how fast the first 8 months have gone. Just keep Smiling, Hon, better days are coming.”  His last letter, on Nov. 20, 1941, concluded: “You are still my best sister and buddy.”

To his father, Mr. Simon often described his new life. “The Navy is doing me a lot of good Dad; it is taking that crazyness out of me,” he wrote near Father’s Day 1941. “I stop and think now before I start to do anything. I weigh almost 200 now and feel fine.” 

“We sure are working hard now,” he said in January 1941. “They have us loading ammunition and I mean that damn stuff is heavy! A powder bag weighs 102 lbs. and we carry two at a time. The shells weigh over 1000 lbs.”

In July, he shared with both of them the news that he has passed the exam to make seaman first class, a promotion that boosted his pay to $54 a month. “Boy that really makes me happy! The division officer has already given me my course for Bosun’s [Boatswain’s] Mate third class, so I’m studying that now. I’ll be a sailor yet if I can keep it up.”

Early on, he almost always talked about coming home for a visit to see his fiancee, Marie, to hunt with his father, and to play with Terry, his terrier.

But by May 1941 he wrote, “I wonder if he will still know me when I come home again.” And by November, in mentioning a friend who was homesick, he observed, “I was that way for a long time myself, but now I just grin and bear it, because I know that I’ll be home with you at my first possible chance.”

Mr. Simon, born July 24, 1918, was 23 when he was killed.

He was a 1937 graduate of Collingswood High School, which by the spring of 1942 had already lost four of its boys to the war. One of them, Eugene Joseph Rowe, was in the class of 1940 and enlisted on the same day and in the same place as Mr. Simon. The 1942 yearbook is dedicated to them.

Sources: Mr. Simon’s photo and letters are courtesy of his niece, Nancy Maack. Other sources are: the Philadelphia Inquirer; the  Collingswood H.S. yearbook, Navy muster rolls. The Navy photo of Mr. Simon is in front of a statue of King Kamehameha in Honolulu. The second photo shows Mr. Simon as a boy with his sister, Louise. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.
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