Army veteran recalls his service in Signal Corps
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series, which features veterans in our area and shares first-hand accounts of their military service. The series is published each Monday through Veterans Day. To suggest an Unsung Hero, call 304-636-2121, ext. 120.
ELKINS — The current chaplain of American Legion Post 29 previously spent three years in communications with the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
Arley Simmons served from 1958 through 1961, with his highest rank being a sergeant E-5.
“When I went in it was just after the ending of the Korean War, and I got out when Vietnam was starting,” Simmons said. “It was peace time but at the time I went into the military I was on my way to Korea. They took my name off that list and sent me down to the Caribbean, which is something I never dreamed of.”
Simmons explained that he enlisted into the Army, and the same day he was headed to Fairmont before going to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, the very next day for basic training. He said he attempted to enlist into two other branches of the military before the Army, but one was too busy and the other closed.
“When I first went into the service, I decided in my mind that I was going to the military and I went to Kingwood to enlist. I went into the Air Force office. They had a whole bunch of people in there and I wasn’t waiting. I went into the next one, the Navy, and it was closed,” Simmons said. “I went into the third one. It was the Army. I walked in. The sergeant was sitting there by himself and said, ‘What can I do for you today?’ I said ‘I want to enlist.’ He was the kindest man you ever saw after that.”
He believed if he did not join when he did, he would have changed his mind and never ended up serving.
“I was determined I wanted to go into the service,” he said. “If I had waited a while, I would have probably changed my mind.”
After completing basic training, Simmons went to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, for communications school, then to Fort Meade in Maryland. Next he went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and lastly he went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he spend two and a half years doing communications.
While in San Juan, his communications department served as a direct line between the Pentagon and Heidelberg, Germany.
“I was assigned to communications there also. We took care of all communications for Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. We handled all communications,” he said. “We were a direct link from the Pentagon to Heidelberg, Germany. When communications came through San Juan it was boosted straight on to Heidelberg, Germany.”
He explained that while in San Juan, hurricane damage caused antennas and other communications equipment to have to be fixed.
“In 1959, the United States put a satellite in orbit. During the time that satellite was in orbit they lost all communications. They called from the Pentagon to us and they spoke with some pretty strong terms,” Simmons said. “‘Fix the communications! It has to be back on there now!’ They had no communications with that satellite at all. We spent about three days straight to get it back online.”
Simmons reminisced on one instance where his unit was called to Lebanon. He said all the planes were packed and they were waiting to load at Baltimore International Airport when the trip was canceled.
“All of our equipment in the company had to be packed up and put in big Conex containers, loaded up and taken to the rail yard. We had to load up all our vehicles and everything to be shipped over to Lebanon. We cleared the entire place where the company was at,” he said. “We went to Baltimore International Airport. They had several C-130 cargo planes with the motors running waiting for us to load on to go straight to Lebanon.
“We were all standing out there on the tarmac waiting to be loaded on the plane. The only clothes you could take was military clothes. The barracks where we lived was closed until we returned, or if we didn’t return, (our belongings) would be turned over to the family,” he continued. “We were waiting to climb on and they canceled it. They canceled us because they brought another unit in from over in Europe to take our place so we had to come back and unload everything and put it away. That was one of the bad parts.”
Simmons said he served only during peace time but shared his respect for all veterans, especially those who went to war.
“I respect all the vets that went into combat,” he said. “Believe me, they did a wonderful job.”
Simmons, who is originally from Preston County, said he had a close friend, Hermon Hostuttler, that was lost in the line of duty. He added he did not know where Hostuttler had been killed until he saw his name in the motion picture, “We Were Soldiers.”
“I lost a real personal, good friend that I went into the Army with. He was killed over in the Ia Drang Valley,” Simmons said. “The only way I found out where he was actually killed at in Vietnam was in the movie ‘We Were Soldiers.’ That was in the Ia Drang Valley. That’s where they were outnumbered. They had to call fire on their own unit. At the end of this movie, it was showing the wall where all the individuals killed in the Ia Drang Valley. When they were showing the names on the wall, I saw my buddy’s name on it. He was from over in Preston County, too.”
Upon his return, Simmons joined the Army Reserve 150th Armored Division. He was also a member of the Armor Intelligence Division.
Simmons has been a faithful member of Post 29 American Legion for 38 years, serving as the chaplain for the previous six years at both Post 29 and District 9, which covers 12 posts. He is a member of the honor guard, is a minister and is integral in military funerals, which are free to the family, and assist with fundraising for those in need.
Over the past several years, he also has assisted in the upkeep of the Little Arlington Cemetery.
“We do so many things. People don’t know really what the American Legion does. We do funerals — we travel all over the state, and there is no charge for the funerals. We consider it an honor because it’s the last thing we can do for those veterans that pass away. We’ve been doing it all the years I’ve been in it,” he said.
“We do flag presentations, we do bridge dedications, we go to the school and post the flags and explain to the kids how to fold the flag and what each fold means. The young kids in the elementary schools love it and we’re honored to do it.”
Simmons is an Elkins resident. Before his time in the service, he worked for a lumber company in Preston County.
After completing his term of service, he worked in Kingwood for the Preston County Gas Co.