SEAMAN FIRST CLASS WALTER HAMILTON SIMON was born on July 18, 1918. He attended the James A. Garfield School in Collingswood, and was a 1937 graduate of Collingswood High School. His mother passed away in in 1939. Known to his friends a "Billy", he had worked at the RCA plant in Camden NJ before enlisting in the Navy on October 16, 1940 with his Collingswood High classmate, Eugene J. Rowe. They both were sent to Newport RI, where they completed their basic training. After a brief visit home, both Simon and Rowe were sent to Bremerton WA, where they were assigned to the battleship USS Arizona.
Billy Simon had been recently promoted to Seaman First Class, and was still serving aboard the battleship USS Arizona on December 7, 1944 at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii when the Japanese attacke. He was killed, along with fellow Collingswood High alumnus Eugene J. Rowe and John Bangert of Glendora. Another classmate, Joseph Parker Hittorff, Jr., class of '38, was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma.
Seaman First Class Walter Hamilton Simon was 23 when he was killed in action. He was the son of Dr. and Mrs. Walter Peltz Simon, of 574 Haddon Avenue, and had a sister Louise Estelle Simon. Dr. Simon, a noted chiropractor, took the death of his son very hard. His health rapidly declined, and he passed away on June 4, 1943.
I never met Uncle Billy, but he was as much a part of my childhood as any living relative. In fact, I probably knew more about him than about some of those mysterious aunts and uncles who were only seen at funerals and weddings, dressed in their Sunday best. But to start at the beginning, Uncle Billy's name wasn't Billy at all - that was a family nickname, used only by his sister (my mother) and parents, Dr. & Mrs. William Simon. Growing up, his friends called him Walt, and once in the Navy, he seems to have been dubbed "Si". But that's getting ahead of the story.
Walt Simon fulfilled a long-held dream on October 16, 1940, by joining the U.S. Navy. He became a member of the 50th Company at the Naval Training Station in Newport, R.I.
"You should see me wash clothes and sling a hammock. They sure are nice to sleep in - no foolin'!"- October 25, 1940
After his training period, Si, was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona in Bremerton, Washington. There he helped refit the ship by chipping paint.
"By the time I get out of this Navy I'll be a first class paint-chipper." - December 31, 1940.
The ship made a couple of trips between California and Hawaii for training exercises. However, he didn't like Hawaii very much, he thought it was too hot, and too exotic.
"No.... Hawaii ain't what it's cracked up to be. It has pretty scenery, but the place stinks. Half of the inland water is polluted." - February 19, 1941
During the summer of 1941 he made Seaman First Class, and began studying for Boatswains Mate Third Class. Even though he never came out and admitted to being homesick, he longed for the streets of home, the sight of friendly faces, and the taste of his sister's good cooking. In spite of all that, though, he was happy in the Navy.
"The officer told me today I was one of the best men in the division and to keep up the good work. Boy that made me feel good!" - March 10, 1941
His letters were always cheerful, and full of encouragement. He enjoyed his work, his friends, and even Navy food! He never seemed to be down about anything except his father's well-being. In his letters, my uncle often addressed my mother as 'Dutchess' or simply 'Dutch'. His affection for her was clearly evident. Since she worked in Woolworth's in Collingswood, he would call her his "Million Dollar Baby from the 5 and 10 cent store." Chances are he also called his fiancée, Marie, the same thing, because she also worked in a Woolworth's. He depended on her to keep everything together at home - with his father, his fiancée, and his own piece of mind. His father's health was not good, he seemed to have lost his 'fight'. There were many pleas from Billy to his father to write "even if it's just a line or two". His letters are also filled with plans and promises of good times when he returned home.
In late July of 1941 the Arizona made its final voyage across the Pacific, reaching its destination of Pearl Harbor at the beginning of August. His last letter home, dated November 21, says
" . . . I feel like a million. I'll bet Terry [their dog] won't even recognize me! I'm still studying for Coxswain. I really enjoy being around the boats . . . ours is the best in the fleet . . . it looks like a million. I wish we could be together for Christmas . . . we'd have a real good time, you, me, Dad, and Marie . . . I'll write again soon! Keep smiling!"
There has been a lot written about what happened in Pearl Harbor the morning of December 7, 1941 but much less about what happened at home. It wasn't until the 23rd of December that Dr. Simon and his daughter received word that Billy had indeed gone down with the Arizona. In the meantime, a strange incident occurred at the Woolworth store where his sister worked. The following news item, clipped from the local paper, is self-explanatory:
"A mother of a local boy in service at Pearl Harbor was overjoyed this week to hear from her son that he was safe. In writing his mother, the son asked that she go to the Woolworth store in Collingswood and tell a certain girl employee of that place that her brother was also safe, even though he had not communicated with his own parents.
The woman did this, but thru a misunderstanding left the store without seeing the girl and leaving no name. This boys relatives have since received word that he has been lost in the Pacific."
If there is anyone knowing of this woman, will they contact her and request her to give any such information to the family of the boy whose sister she was seeking.
The sister in this article was my mother, and the missing boy my uncle. The woman who came into the store was never found, and no further information was ever discovered.
The Navy awarded him the Purple Heart in January of 1944.
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