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Interview with John W. Simons, June 6, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with John W. Simons, June 6, 2003
June 6, 2003
Chaplain Simons describes some of the more difficult duties of a military chaplain serving National Guard (Ohio). Episcopal Chaplain Colonel recalls events leading up to and following Kent State Shooting, including the use of tear gas on students and military personnel throwing stones at protesting students. Poignantly he recounts memorial services for the students killed.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Simons, John W. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  6/6/2003 Series:  Military Length  55 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's library. This is part of the Military Chaplain's project and I'm in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and today's date is the 6th of June in the year 2003. I'm at the home of Pastor John W. Simmons.

Simons: Simons, one M, right.

Zarbock: Simons, a colonel, retired from the U.S. military. Good afternoon, Sir, and how are you?

Simons: I'm fine, thank you. I'm delighted you're here, Paul.

Zarbock: Thank you. Question number one. Who were the individuals or what were the series of events that led you into the selection of the religious orders as a profession?

Simons: I think first of all would be my parents. Uh.. my mother was a strong Episcopalian and even then dad was too, so that he, being an Army officer himself uh.. when we were in- in uh.. places where we could not receive services, he could read morning prayer and he already did that. Then also when I was growing up dad was overseas in the uh.. 40s during the first- second World War. He was also in the First World War and the local rector by the name of Thomas Frazier--Tom Frazier, one of those young guys who'd come out of the second War and had gathered up a bunch of young folks for some intense religious experiences, mainly in summer camps in Virginia, outside of Richmond, so that process and that modeling led me to be- consider that. Uhm.. I had a little brother who- who became an Episcopal priest, was in the process when I was thinking about this, and so I didn't want to im- imitate my little brother and decided I would be a lawyer or a military officer. Uhm.. by this time my father had been transferred to Germany. This was 1949. I had finished one year of college and so went over to join him with my mother, who-- my mother is an extr- was an extraordinary woman. She had four sons and four girls. Uhm.. she said she survived by having a glass of sherry every noon and taking a nap. I think there's probably too many of them. But three of us became Episcopal priests in this process, and my- I have a kid sister who said she would have nothing to do one. She ended up marrying one, so.

But mother was smart. When we had these university uh.. reunions of the family, she never had any of her three sons read the _____, it was always the son-in-law. Now, when I was in Germany in '49 and '50, we- we went to the University of Maryland in Munich, which was set up specifically in Munich for college-aged dependents. It was just getting to be too expensive for the Army to ship us back and forth all the time. It happens to be the same place I met my wife, who is a uh.. Army child. Her father was a West Pointer. In the- in the- as a matter of fact on the wall behind you I have three retirement certificates, one for my father, my father-in-law and one of my own, so that I kind of grew up as you- as you can see in the Army, at least from 1939 on. Uh.. one- two major events happened while we were living in Germany that affected my life in terms of the ministry. One was in about 1950, this would be only five years after the war, the students, we decided we would go up to Dachau. Now Dachau in those days was not cleaned up as it is now. It still had the barracks that were utilized for displaced persons, uh.. the gallows were there and just- just there, you know, memorializing and everything else.

Zarbock: I'm sorry, for the purpose of this tape...

Simons: Yes.

Zarbock: ...what is Dachau?

Simons: Well Dachau of course is one of the most infamous concentration camps outside of Munich right? And uh.. where I- I was just appalled that people could- could murder people like that. And it was uh.. it was an amazing, horrible experience where you could go in and the ovens were still there, not cleaned up. They had the old- some people had left uh.. flowers there that had died, so uh.. it- you really got a sense of what this horrible place was really about. And so I- I couldn't understand, 'cause we knew a lot of Germans by that time, students and others, how anybody could do that and so that- that really bothered me that people could be so inhumane. So listen if I thought about it, maybe I could be too.

So kind of tracking that with religion I decided there's gotta be something better to do with life than maybe just making money as a lawyer or (laughs) or uh.. as a politician. So, then one day- (laughs) one Sun- one weekend I was home to Hanau, where my father was commander of- of a depot up there, and all the chaplains were out and he says "John, will you please do the service on Sunday?" I said, "Dad, I've never preached in my life." He says "Well, you can do it, you can do it, I know it." So, I got the book, the military uh.. service book, made out the service, got up to the pulpit and said "You are about to hear the greatest sermon you've ever heard" and read the Sermon of the Mount from modern translation. (laughs) But anyhow, they-

Zarbock: (laughs) How old were you at the time?

Simons: I must've been 20, maybe 21 I suppose, yeah. I came back to the States, enrolled in the Army, the Korean War was still going on but it was one year to go, and I knew uh.. if I'm gonna go to seminary, I'm gonna need one more year of college and- and uh.. three years of seminary, uh.. the GI Bill was operative and, so they shipped me back to Germany as an MP. Now being an MP is probably the best training for a chaplain, because you see all kinds of things, (laughs) and nothing is gonna shock you. And it also teaches you to be very alert, very alert, so it really worked out very well. So I came back and went to seminary in Ohio, and I had a classmate who had been a chaplain in the- in the Guard-

Zarbock: What seminary was that, sir?

Simons: Bexley Hall, the seminary of Ka- of uh.. Kenyon College outside of Columbus. Yeah. And uh.. so, he asked me if I would go by the armory in Cleveland where I was living then after graduating seminary, pick up the colors of the unit and take them down to this town where he was being ordained, and I- I did that. So I brought the colors back. One of the full-timers there said "Well, why don't you become a chaplain?" and I said "I don't know why not." It's- (laughs) it's really kind of what happened. You know, God kind of set it up and I didn't have to make a lot of ...

Zarbock: You walked into it.

Simons: Walked into it. And uh.. so I became a chaplain in- in the National Guard- Ohio National Guard in 1960 this was. Uhm.. I stayed with this particular unit, which was an armored cav outfit out of Cleveland, an old historic National Guard unit, and uh.. had a wonderful series of experiences there, uhm.. and so- one bad one which I'll tell you about. But one thing about this outfit is they at one time owned their own armory. It was kind of a gentleman's thing. Matter of fact, they s- they maintained the- the first person to draw blood was the chaplain. They were on strike duty and somebody made some comment, some striker made some comment to the commander and the chaplain whipped out his sword and stabbed him in the butt. I think it's probably a crock (laughs) to mention it but anyhow.

They had money, so the chaplain had access to funds for his work, I mean, $1,000, $1,500, amazing, because inevitably you go to camp, uh.. you have an accident, somebody's gonna get hurt, the relatives are gonna come up, but when that happened in Grayling or Pickett or wherever, we could just write checks. He'd come up, take care of them and not have to worry about particularly the- the uh.. en- enlisted folks. That was really wonderful. Uhm.. it was a fine group of commanders we had in this regiment. Uh.. moved along, they had the- they had the same standard in the Guard and Reserves as they do in the active Army. You have to go to the same schools, and the chaplain school at that time was at Fort Hamilton. Uh.. you had to take the same courses and so forth and so on. So as I moved on up and became the uh.. the senior chaplain uh.. with the rank of Major and about this time we had a governor of the state of Ohio by the name of Rhodes, who loved to call out the Guard for anything it seemed. And he- we had been on duty twice now, and this is in 1970 with the uh.. strikers, the truckers were on strike and so one of the favorite things would be where a trucker who was on strike may even take a cinder block up on a bridge and drop it on the- on somebody who was driving a truck, so we- this was just terrible, boring duty. And we had two other chaplains so the three of us would rotate around.

Well, along came the trouble at Kent State. You know the background for this is that of course Governor Rhodes at that time had- was completing his second term as governor. He could not have a third term run. He wanted to be senator, and uh.. he was losing. Unfortunately, he- i- in the end he did lose, but they had been used to- the Guard had been used to uh.. locking and loading their weapons when they went out at the strike because this is what the old Adjutant General by the name of Del Corso wanted.

Zarbock: What was his name?

Simons: Del Corso. Even though the Army had said after the uh.. horrendous uh.. riots in Detroit, the Army set up guidelines for how you went into uh.. riot control with selected people with weapons loaded and so forth, but Ohio and Mississippi said "No, we'll do it our own way" so everybody loaded with these M-1s were loaded with full rounds, went everywhere around campus, they were off and on campus. The Assistant Adjutant General by the name of Canterbury had been the regimental commander at one time so I knew him fairly well and when I arrived at the campus the day of the k- the day of the killing at Kent State, it was kind of a mob scene, there was much going on. I checked into the-

Zarbock: What were the issues that were leading to the "unrest and revolt."

Simons: Ahh, this is ripe, this is the years we had- under Nixon we decided we'd go into Cambodia and had invaded Cambodia, uh.. so the- the students were really across the country pretty much upset about this, and uh.. they were rioting, they did the night before we were called out, burned down the old ROTC building, which in terms of architecture was not much of a loss, it was old barracks. Uh.. but in any event, uh.. there was a lot of hostility between the city and the townspeople and the college. Matter of fact, when I pulled off the turnpike coming- driving down from Cleveland in a staff car, the woman who took my money said "I hope you go down and bang some heads in." Uhm.. and unfortunately we did.

Well, this was not a large operation and did not need a brigadier general running around in civilian clothes, which just confused things and he was absolutely convinced that on a new day we were gonna- we were gonna clean off this hill. And I pressed to make sure that people- the kids knew this was- this was lunchtime. I had students from the parish who were students there, the kids went there, and uh.. well, yeah, we'll take care of it. Well, it was very poorly done, very poorly led and uh.. it was a lot of confusion. We split troops up, the- the new commander of the combined troops never had a chance to command because this was a civilian guy running around with my gas mask on. He didn't bring one so I gave him mine. (laughs)

Zarbock: This is a general in civilian?

Simons: This is a general, that's what I thought, you know, I knew generals 'cause I had a father-in-law that was a general officer. It was really bad. Uh.. I went up to another officer, we went up towards the hill, he split the troops, I went with a- one body, so I did not actually see the shooting. We all came back, there was two mobs, two mobs led by this civilian. We lined up the troops and got them calmed down uh.. and then he said "Well, we'll go back up." And I said "Sir, you told us--" I physically spun him around and said "You told them, you told Professor White that you would"- who was one of the professors trying the monitor the scene "that you would give him five minutes more to kill- to clear the uh.. town- the uh.. square- the hill rather."

You can tell that I find it even now very upsetting to talk about. Uhm.. and so he did and they did clear out pretty much and uh.. well, at the end of the day I went to the hospital in Ravenna to see one of the troops who had hyperventilated, none of our troops had been hurt physically, and went back to the armory where the commander uh.. who was a superb man, a West Pointer by the name of Dana Stewart uh.. Stuart [ph?] was appalled that this could have occurred. He says he had asked them in Columbus to send up some fire trucks, fire...and let them use that for riot control. They sent him a toy fire truck. This is the mentality of- of the folks down in Columbus at that time. I never dreamed at that time that one of the days would be one of them, there I would be down in Columbus. Uhm.. so that uh.. was really a horrible time and uh..

Zarbock: How many students were killed?

Simons: Four students were killed, three Jewish students were killed and one- one non-Jewish one, and nine were shot.

Zarbock: These, these?

Simons: I don't know, you- you obviously know something about the distance of an M-1. That was the rifle of the time. I mean you could really hurt somebody at two miles.

Zarbock: Absolutely.

Simons: Absolutely. This was not two miles, it was a parking lot. So, I hope that by- and then we go on to trials and- and all kinds of things. And I- I'll just mention two, one is uh.. one of the mothers of the students, one of the Jewish killed, a young girl, she was so upset that she was willing to come to talk to me, and the general said- General Stuart at that time said- and I said "fine."

Zarbock: Why did she- how did she identify you and why did she want?

Simons: Well, because I had been in the papers of course criticizing their officers, or the leaders.

Zarbock: "Chaplain who is critical" of type of thing.

Simons: Yeah, similar to that, oh yeah, it was something else, I'll tell ya. Uhm.. anyhow, so she and her husband came and- and as- this- she kind of took me back to Dachau because here were two Jewish parents who had brought their two girls to this country before the second war out of fear of what would happen to them by German soldiers "and then" she says "and then this happens." Well, I- I don't know how much help I was to them, but- but at least they had a sense I guess that- that somebody could make some connections with this horrible, horrible __________.

The uhm.. funny, we had- not funny, it was uh.. it was very interesting uh.. in 19, 19- the year 2000- 2000, excuse me, I was invited back by Kent State to take part in the symposium and a memorial service for that event. It- it was the first time we met- well not the first time- we were back for- for a couple of trials down there well but, and then uh.. as interesting was that we had this memorial service at the site, and the uh.. Jewish folks led their particular prayer, the- their traditional prayer for the dead, I led the uh.. the Our Father, and then the Jewish people said "Why don't we start singing Saving- Amazing Grace?" Now that's amazing, requested by Jewish folks, and of course the whole crowd, this whole crowd broke out in Amazing Grace. It was uhm.. that is kind of closure. I think the real closure to this would come maybe when some of the uh.. soldiers who, not in any conspiracy but out of I think some kind of anger and frustration and tiredness and poor leadership, shot, and of course they don't want to admit that now but maybe for their souls' sake, I really hope they do step forward sometime.

Uhm.. ironically, I went to my commander, who I told you about, Dana Stuart was a West Pointer and a republican, so he- the new governor, who was in- a democrat, Gilbert wanted to interview all the senior colonels, and Dana said "No, I don't want to waste his time" Uh, it really is a political appointment, because you're part of the governor's cabinet if- if you have the military qualifications. So- but finally they talked him into going down and by golly, he was appointed to be the adjutant general and clean the mess up. You know, when we went to the stands in a hurry, I mean uhm.. four years later old Governor Rhodes is back as the governor. He was elected for two more terms. Appalling.

But they didn't throw me out of the Guard, they tried earlier, you know, they wanted to have me court-martialed and they wanted a- they wanted a court martial, chance to (bell ringing) pull my endorsement. It didn't happen. Well, following that, another commander of the regiment who would not say a thing to me about this thing at Kent State, 'cause he had been there, he was the commander of engineers, asked me to come back into the Guard. By this time I'd left because I'd become a full colonel, and as you know, there's only one full colonel in the state, and I had gone in the reserves, and that's a fine experience as a hospital chaplain in the reserves. But this guy asked me to come back in to be the state chaplain. Del Corso was still alive and he must've been furious (laughs) and I thought what an experience of being the state chaplain for five years. Uhm.. so that's, you know, that really is an incredible story.

Zarbock: Let me take you back.

Simons: Sure.

Zarbock: How and why was the chaplain included in what really was a quasi-combat patrol on the knoll or on the hill at Kent State? Why were you there?

Simons: Well, because the people were there. I mean, chaplains go wherever there's- even now they go into battle.

Zarbock: Were you ordered to go there or did you?

Simons: Oh no, I assumed that, that's my- I assumed that my responsibility.

Zarbock: Oh, okay.

Simons: Sure, oh yeah. And of course obviously the old man thought it was my responsibility too because he was "Go on, John" after he took my gas mask. (laughs)

Zarbock: And that's another, again for the record, why did you have a gas mask?

Simons: Well, we were using- we used tear glass- tear gas fairly heavily trying to disperse the crowd. It didn't work. They threw them back at us.

Zarbock: So troops were firing tear gas canisters at students?

Simons: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. Fairly common both that morning and night before, and.

Zarbock: You know, by the time this- some time in the future when this tape is played, tear gas may be as old fashioned as a typewriter.

Simons: Yes, oh yeah. Uhm.. yeah uh.. and I think we are getting to be more skillful in designing non-lethal ways of- of crowd control.

Zarbock: Okay, but you say that the troops are broken up into group A and group B. You were- for the purposes of our discussion, let's say you were in group A where the firing did not take place. Is that correct?

Simons: No, okay. N- now we're all one body down there in the beginning and we went up the hill.

Zarbock: How many troops are there?

Simons: Well, we don't know. Well it's funny, well, I'm sure there were- I've got the exact figures some place. Roughly there must've been 100, 120.

Zarbock: Oh, so it was a company strength?

Simons: Oh, there was no doubt about it, large strength. That's why we killed a lot of folks there. Why did we need a lot of a lot of folks? It may be larger than that but it wasn't much larger. When the lieutenant colonel was in charge of the- but the- see there were mixed companies. Some came in, were mixed right when they arrived. They- they were not- they didn't maintain unit integrity. We- we've gone through riots, similar riots in Cleveland without hurting anybody because we maintained strict control. Fired one shot I think in the- in the three or four times that we- and this was accidental, it didn't hurt anybody in the three or four times we were involved in civil action i- in the- in Cleveland. That's an experience to be in your hometown, which were- uh.. the pastor of the church going to the riot with my gear all on in a Jeep with two guys riding shotgun. Now try that one on for size.

Zarbock: Thank you, no. (laughs)

Simons: It was amazing. Well, we were c- you know, we were a control group n- but at Kent State it fell apart, it fell apart.

Zarbock: Well of course, and everybody asks the question, why did it fall apart?

Simons: Well, I think it partly- I- I really do think it was part arrogance of the two general officers. I think Del Corso who was the Major General, was the Adjutant General, I think Del Corso to his death felt a real- this is the way you control it. Now another fact, the first riot that we had in Cleveland, my father who by that time was retired, called up and said "Why are- why aren't they shooting the looters?" I said "Dad, they don't shoot looters, I mean, that- we're protecting people, not things." Well, at one of the hearings a- at- for one of these trials uhm.. one of the governor's lawyers said uh.. "You know, you're there to protect things and people." I said "You got it wrong. It's people and then things." My God, you replace things, you can't replace people. You can't replace those four kids. Amazing.

Zarbock: So, and the parents of the deceased students were really asking you why, why?

Simons: Why.

Zarbock: Why does God?

Simons: Couldn't tell, couldn't tell, couldn't tell them.

Zarbock: That's about as harsh a duty when it comes to counseling as I think you ever see.

Simons: I've rarely had one harder, no. Probably because the association, would- knowing where they were coming from, having been there, having seen that.

Zarbock: Did you mention that to them?

Simons: Yeah. So, that- that may have helped a bit, but- but uh..

Zarbock: What is the answer? Why does God let these things happen?

Simons: I think God gives us free will and makes us- and we make some pretty damned stupid decisions. (laughs)

Zarbock: (laughs)

Simons: I don't think, I know He does. Puppets would be easier to control and we're not puppets.

Zarbock: Back to you and your persona at that time.

Simons: Mm-hmm.

Zarbock: So, you ended up in the newspaper? Did you write an article, were you interviewed?

Simons: Yes.

Zarbock: Was your picture in the paper?

Simons: Both oh, the phone was off the hook. And I, and so I finally- uhm.. that's an interesting story. Uhm.. the Monday after the shooting, or was it Tues- Tuesday, was- was voting day, so I was in my usual- I'm going to my local precinct to vote before I went back over to the armory and a trucker from Tennessee, your home state, stopped me and said "Chaplain, I hate the fact that your governor calls us out against truckers, but why in the hell didn't you kill more of those kids?" And that was kind of the attitude. When I got to the armory by noontime, the- the k- the young folks, the young enlisted people who were answering the phone would come to me and say "Chaplain, this is crazy. People are calling up saying why didn't you do more." Well, we didn't, thank God.

But uhm.. hmm yes, uh.. I finally s- oh, I told you I was gonna tell you this story too. So, in order to handle all these interviews, I called up a local uh... anchorman by the name of Doug Adair [ph?] who was an Episcopal layman who I knew and said "I wanna have lunch with you and decide what we're gonna do" and uh.. so he and I and his weatherman had lunch and Doug listened to my story, which included the statement I haven't told you yet. When I first came into the office or the classroom where d- where can- where General Canterbury was, he said "John, good to see you. You've been here la- should've been here last night when Del Corso and I had a good time throwing rocks back at the students." You are- y- wh- uh... what? That's exactly what he said. So when I told that to Doug Adair, he said "We- we won't- we won't touch it. John, you probably shouldn't put that out there. We've got lots of- of uh...student activity coming for this weekend." Now, s- the uh... the uh... weatherman was all anxious to do it because it would be on national TV, he'd be on national TV. Doug said "No, I wo- I won't do it. I urge you not to." So I didn't, because it could've, you know, all- all the campuses would've erupted over the weekend and that kind of incendiary statement.

Zarbock: Did you have contact with the campus chaplains?

Simons: No. No, and I uhm.. and of course once I had gone public, there was very little counseling with- with Guardsmen I could do, 'cause they were afraid of me, you know.

Zarbock: What was the nature of your statement, statements, I mean like evocative statements, why are we or uh?

Simons: Well, the evocative statement- the evocative statement was here we- here we come in and the first thing the general officer tells me why weren't you here so that he could- he would enjoy throwing rocks back at other students. These are two general officers chasing students up and down the hill. Come on. What a dumb ______ remark, that's stupid. And uh.. so, I agree not to uh.. have a- an interview until after the grand jury was in and- and uh.. there was- there were several grand juries, the federal, the state, uhm.. then there was the uh.. ker- not Kerner [ph?] Commission, what's the name of the guy? Anyhow, there's a federal commission and all of us and- but then uh.. a guy name of Shearer [ph?] called me up from uh.. NBC or CBS, I forget which one it was, wanted to do an interview, and I said "Well, I- I've told you I would afterwards" so he came down to the church and I thought he would get Doug Adair and just come out. He came down from Chicago with a whole bunch of equipment. I'm in the new church, just taking a new call, (laughs) does this interview for about an hour and a half, you know, and then most of it's kinda raw. Well, that night, I had no idea what, you know, being on national TV is gonna- this is the Walter Cronkite show, what it was gonna be like. So I went out to- I went out to lunch- to dinner and came back and phoned friends and my father calls, some general officer called him in Columbus where he was living and say "Did you see your son on TV?" Well, actually I got something like four minutes, it was a lot of time. The reason I got it was they tried t- to get some response from the- from Canterbury and Del Corso in Columbus and they wouldn't have anything to do with it, so they're gonna use up the time. But it- it- the way the thing all worked out, I still made my exit and I ended up 30 years as chaplain, ten years as a full colonel, you know uhm...

Zarbock: Would you do it again?

Simons: Yes. Oh yeah.

Zarbock: Were you ever ordered, were you ever strongly suggested, were you ever hinted at or subtly nudged to make a statement or perform an act which you thought was in violation of your personal ethic and your religious convictions?

Simons: No. I uhm.. this uh.. I discovered years afterwards in terms of Kent State for instance that the activity to get rid of me uh.. was fairly intense and mainly blocked by this wonderful Presbyterian uh.. Dana Stuart who was my Commander, and one of my other chaplains.

Zarbock: When you say your commander, he was not a chaplain?

Simons: No, no, no, no.

Zarbock: He was the Troop Commander.

Simons: Right, Troop Commander.

Zarbock: What was his rank?

Simons: Well, he was a full co- Colonel at that time, Colonel of the regiment and then he became the Major General.

Zarbock: And he?

Simons: Between the time he- between the time that all this stuff happened and the new election and his appointment as the adjutant general, he stood between me- I- I realize now he stood between me and the governor and the state.

Zarbock: What were the charges? Actions prejudicial to the government or something?

Simons: Well uh.., I think the one charge the counsel- Del Corso tried to push was that I had violated confidence by saying what people had said. I had not used any names. I never revealed any conversations other than Del Corso's, I mean Canterbury statement. That was pretty much it. The executive officer's regiment actually w- wrote a uh.. you know, you get rated and you're rated by two officers. He wrote one that was kind of saying I shouldn't have done this, but the commander wrote a- a cover one saying that he was absolutely right. So, yeah, it was amazing. Uhm...

No uhm.. I never was asked to do that. The toughest things that uh.. most Guard chaplains had to do during the Vietnam war was the terrible thing of- of uh.. going with a- normally it was a regular Army officer, to announce the death a young man. They were terrible, and uh.. I remember- vividly remember the first one, because you- we pulled into this street, I was- it was during- I was a city chaplain, I preached in downtown Cleveland and uh.. this was where a lot of Appalachians were, this particular area. We pulled into this street, found a parking space and as we walked down, I swear you could see or you could feel the sighs of relief when you went by a house. They knew why you were there. They knew absolutely why you were there. You weren't coming in Class A uniforms to have tea but to deliver a death, and that was tough.

Zarbock: What would you say?

Simons: It really does depend. The first one we couldn't say very much g- and they wanted to see the body. It turned out we couldn't tell them how they died, you know, he died in the barracks in Saigon playing Russian Roulette, this kind of stuff. It's all kinds of deaths. Uhm... no, no. No, you don't say so much as be, you're really there, you're really there. Uh.. even the- not even but the fact that there's a chaplain and another officer there says that- that the Army does care, they're just not gonna give you a letter.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Simons: And the fact that we also would go ahead and have full military funerals if they wanted.

Zarbock: How long, again, characteristically, would you stay with the bereaved? I know it would vary of course.

Simons: Oh, it would vary, it would vary, sometimes you go to go back but you feel you're in a small town, you- you may go down maybe once or twice, and you also would check of course with the local pastor if they had one. And often i- these funeral would be- we'd share- we shared operations anyhow. And sometimes you might not even be invited to come. You know, that's understandable.

Zarbock: How long did you do that type of duty, pastor?

Simons: Well, we did it all during the 'Nam war- Vietnam war.

Zarbock: Years?

Simons: Oh yeah. You might go a year or so without doing one, but oh yes. As a matter of fact, when the Gulf War came along, the Guard was asked to be ready to deliver at least 100,000 death notices. That's how many they felt were gonna happen. And thank God we didn't have to. But I was- I was the Guard chaplain at the National Guard drill that week when we started the bombing, and the fascinating thing about that was first notice w- I got was, you know, remember now, we've got to deliver these death notices. The second one, went to a meeting over at the Pentagon, chief's off- chaplain's office with my counterpart from the Army Reserve, the chief of personnel and some of his staff, and we spent the morning fine tuning the number of chaplains we had called up in terms of denominations and so forth. Went to lunch, came back, and spent the afternoon, you know, six months from now when we send these folks back, who will go to the Guard, who will- I mean it- it's just amazing. And we're a time exactly like that.

Zarbock: You know, I asked this question of two other chaplains and got really soul searching answers. Here it comes: Knocking on somebody's door with a brother officer, having the door open up and you're looking at Mr. or Mrs. or both and maybe children and saying in effect "We're here to announce a death." Well, that's about, I think, as stressful a situation as most people can envision. If you are not the recipient of that news, the bearer of that news is equally, well, not equally, but certainly is profoundly stressed.

Simons: Yes.

Zarbock: Question: Who pastored you?

Simons: My wife.

Zarbock: In what way?

Simons: Well now just by the comfort that she gave. She knows- she knew the strain of this kind of stuff. Uh.. she was not only an Army wife but she was also an Army daughter. Uhm.. and sometimes uh.. other chaplains uhm.. yeah.

Zarbock: Let me broaden that question. Again, from your experience, with other chaplains in conversations with them, I get characteristically who chaplains the chaplains?

Simons: On the whole I think chaplains are like- well, they're clergy persons, so they tend in one sense to be very independent. There's nothing more independent than- or you wouldn't have so daggone many denominations, we weren't so damned independent, so. But I also think I- at least I saw my role as a senior chaplain as- as pastoring my- my junior chaplains. So we'd go around and see them at their homes uhm.. to do that. The- during the uh.. Reagan years when the Army was being built up and the Reserves to the Guard were being treated far differently than they often are. They're sometimes treated as stepchildren of the active Army. Uh.. they would have wonderful schools and conferences in the areas or in the whole country and it got to one point uh.. we had a council of colonels where we had some senior guys like myself who meet with- with uh.. in this case with uh.. chief of chaplains uh.. Matt Zimmerman, so there was that kind of structure available.

Uhm.. and then the active Army o- of course, chaplains would come off duty to us and we would go on duty to them, they back and forth. Uhm.. the wonderful experience I had as a hospital chaplain uhm.. in- in military hospital in both there and in Germany uh.. is something you cannot match in a civilian hospital. By that I mean i- w- as a chaplain in the military hospital, go out put on the gown, I'd make rounds with the doctors, I could see the records. You can't do that in a civilian hospital. You're one of the team, you're assumed to be confident until you show you're not. Unfortunately I guess I never showed I wasn't. Uhm.. we had- we had- we got some interesting assignments. I had- I was the interim chaplain for the 7th Army Med- Medical command in Germany for a month after Chernobyl. Now, if you remember that and if you remember- recall the fact that America would command-

Zarbock: For the record...

Simons: Yeah.

Zarbock: ...what are you talking about, Chernobyl?

Simons: Chernobyl was with the Russian uh.. atomic plant that blew up and uh.. exploded and sent radiation all over the northern part of Europe where the American military personnel for themselves and their families received their milk, and if you remember, well maybe you don't know, but the- the medical command is responsible through the veterinarians for the food. See, so it was a fascinating time in checking chaplains.

Zarbock: What year was the Chernobyl?

Simons: Oh dear, I knew you were gonna ask me that. It had to be, what, '80- it had to be '80- mid-80s.

Zarbock: Probably.

Simons: I should know that actually, yeah. And then another time I had a wonderful assignment for a month again at Oxford where we would transfer- and this was uh.. between chaplains so I was a hospital chaplain and the hospital was being physically transferred to a new hospital. You never get the experiences with- that- the old Army hospital was just so beat up they bought a new one- built a new one, and in this month I was there, they were transferring, first the operations and then the- then the people and then, you know, it was very fascinating. Couldn't get that kind of experience otherwise. And be paid for it. (laughs)

Zarbock: I'm gonna ask you a question that I'm unsure how to frame it up, so let me start off with a disclaimer. I have no interest whatsoever in this tape or any other actions or activities linked to the chaplain story of "digging up dirt."

Simons: Yeah.

Zarbock: This is not one of those expos things.

Simons: Hmm.

Zarbock: This is a videotape repeating that will probably be used by scholars, students, researchers, whatever.

Simons: Hmm.

Zarbock: So in a general sense, would you give me an orientation to how theological differences between faith groups were handled in the chaplaincy?

Simons: Yes, I'll tell you very easy, not very easy, but uhm.. first of all at the entrance point when they- when a person would come to me and say they wanted to be a chaplain, and that was one of my responsibilities as the- as the senior chaplain was to recruit, you see. Well, one of the first questions was: "How do you feel about uh.. Roman Catholics and Methodists and so forth?" And if they said that sometimes they didn't, well I could- I could tolerate that but I couldn't pray with them. They never got a- they- their papers may get out of the office but along with it went a note to the chief saying scratch him and then they'll get there. So on the whole you do not have folks who cannot uh.. fulfill the re- basic requirement of a chaplain which is to provide religious services for everybody, and allowing those that don't want to, to not have to. This became increasingly important as the diversity of the country has developed, so that now the chaplains' uh.. markers are not just a cross or the star but the wheel for Hindu, the crescent for Muslim, and your responsibility as the chaplain is to make certain that the Muslims have their facility in time for services, the Hindus, the Jews, as well as the Christians, the Catholics, the Christians and all the other Episcopalians, whatever. So it is the most ecumenical group going. It is an incredible group.

Zarbock: But did I hear you correctly? You have to start off with that attitude before you are-?

Simons: Pretty unusual for you to get in with it. No one would get in that came across my way.

Zarbock: What about women chaplains? Do you have an opinion?

Simons: Well.

Zarbock: Or what is your opinion?

Simons: Well, in my opinion, women chaplain is the same as- as with uh.. women priests in an Episcopal church, and I've had some. Uh.. women have particular skills in nurture uh.. and intervention that men don't have. I don't know diddly-dang about birthing a child, and I don't want to know. (laughs) You know? But- but those kinds of issues I think are absolutely critical and uh.. women can- women can be physically just as tough that- as men in terms of the amount of go you have to have, not to men- not so much the physical strength but the stamina. I mean, I defy some men to keep up with the things that some women go through being wives, mothers, houseworkers and then working a business, uh.. you know. I think God created us both, loves us both and (laughs) He wants us to love each other.

Zarbock: That's a lot of role straying, isn't it?

Simons: It is a lot, sure.

Zarbock: Mother.

Simons: Mother, wife, housekeeper, meal planner, neighbor, all those roles.

Zarbock: The whole thing.

Simons: Yeah, sure. And they bring to- they bring to a male oriented group like the chaplains that used to be a different tenure, it's a different sense. It's just like in the Episcopal church we- when I first started, only men run vestry, you know, yeah, put a couple of woman in and the whole thing- dynamics change and things get done and you can't BS them, so. (claps and laughs)

Zarbock: I did some interviewing at Fort Meyer [ph?] and I'm a compulsive bulletin board reader.

Simons: Mmm.

Zarbock: I guess that was deeply, deeply drilled into me during my four years, eleven months, three weeks and five days. (laughs)

Simons: (laughs) Good idea.

Zarbock: I didn't want to show up with my OD uniform and everybody else has turned to khakis.

Simons: That's right. (laughs)

Zarbock: You know, you stick out. Well anyway, I was reading the bulletin board, was astonished to see that there were- you're gonna have to help me with the vocabulary, Wiccans, you know, the Devil worship.

Simons: Oh yeah, Wicc- I know what you mean though.

Zarbock: And I don't have the technical vocabulary.

Simons: Yeah, but they're.

Zarbock: Who claim that theirs is a specific religious organization.

Simons: Right, right.

Zarbock: Do you have an opinion on that?

Simons: Well, uh.. I- if that is their genuinely, then uh.. you know, you have to provide for that facility, you do.

Zarbock: The military has to provide for it?

Simons: I don't know. Uh.. the other thing that used to come up, particularly being a long war with the Guard because there are a lot of folks and- who did in fact join the Guard to get away from that conflict, but then they might be tentatively scheduled to be called up to go someplace and the chaplain's offices would all be lined up "You know, I really don't think I can do this killing business. It's not so much I mind being killed, but I." You know? Well, you had to hear them out because if they did in fact have some kind of religious basis, then you had to process that so that they could in fact be relieved. Most of the time it was not the case and they just needed some reassurance that well yeah, this- things do change and you did not want to do this initially and you don't wanna do it now, but if you have to, if it's a choice between you and somebody else, you may do it. But, you know, I- I've processed some with approval because it's- it's so obvious that they would not be able to handle the situation that they would be a danger to their comrades. So they left.

Zarbock: And that really is the first and the bottom line. The military organization has to maintain the military organization. You have to remember that I'm protecting you and you're protecting me, and I'm talking in a combat situation.

Simons: Right.

Zarbock: Or as a matter of fact a barracks situation.

Simons: Well, I love Barry Godl- Gold- Goldwater's comment where e- everybody's fussing about gays in the military and his comment was "I don't care what their sexual preference is as long as they can shoot in the, you know, (laughs) trench. (laughs) Neither do I, you know.

Zarbock: That's right. Has the chaplaincy changed?

Simons: Yes, yes. It's changed, i- in a couple of areas we just talked about it's changed. I mean, it's far more open to other denominations, it's changed in terms of sexes- sexism, it's got a fascinating change came out of the Vietnam war where chaplains drive their Jeeps where their driver now is the shotgun. It used to be, you know, you- your assistant drove. Well, that didn't work very well in Vietnam obviously because (laughs) they got the wrong guy, so that- that was- that's kind of a funny change. Uh..

Zarbock: I didn't know that.

Simons: Yeah. And I don't know uh.. chaplains are exposed in the training probably to most of the weaponry. I don't know because I went through basic training anyhow, so I was trained as an infantryman, in fact, before I became an MP, after painting the barracks for a week. (laughs) And then I was told I was an MP. Uhm.. and that uh.. yeah, it's changed, it's bound to change.

Zarbock: Is there a just war and an unjust war?

Simons: Yes, there sure is. I think it's very hard to draw the line. The- it's all right for me to be a pacifist and not defend myself against you, but I'm not so sure it's all right for me to be a pacifist and not defend my wife and children against you if you want to kill them. Now it never is that simple I know. That's the- uhm.. I- I think w- we often refer to the Second War as the "good war," 'cause it seemed to damned clean but awful dirty before we got in. We, you know, we well dragged in the First World War. (bell ringing) Uh.. now we drag ourselves it seems to me into wars, 'cause I'm not sure. I'm not sure how just this action is in- in Iran- Iraq rather. But yeah, I think to answer your question, yes, there are just wars. I think they're very few and far between and we need to be very careful.

Zarbock: Do you have children, chaplain?

Simons: I have four wonderful children.

Zarbock: Grandchildren?

Simons: I have uh.. 8 1/2.

Zarbock: Okay. Well, one of the curious things that is happening right now is that due to the marvel of technology here, you'll never be a day older than you are today.

Simons: Right, yeah.

Zarbock: You know, this videotape is going to entomb you in time.

Simons: (laughs)

Zarbock: I think for example of President Kennedy, ex-President Kennedy as being 40 years of age. He'd be in his 80s.

Simons: Yeah right.

Zarbock: But you'll never be a day older than this. So I wonder if you'd take a moment, look right into the camera and you're now talking to your grandchildren.

Simons: Oh.

Zarbock: And tell them what did all of the- for the purpose of this tape- what did all of the military experience that you have, what did it teach you and what would you like to say to them about it?

Simons: Well, I- I think to my grandchildren when they listen to this uhm.. I hope they understand in some sense that the discipline that their parents give them is the discipline that you need in order to live with other people. In the Army, you learn very quickly to live with other people 'cause you're living with them. I mean, ev- I grant you nowadays the recruits going into these campus style quarters are not the same as when- when I went into the two-story barracks with no (laughs) dividers between anything, but you did learn to live together, you really did, with all kinds of people. And that's- that very important and- and my grandchildren I think are in a situation where they- they're just having such a variety of exposures to people that they can appreciate that. They- I would hope they will. Their friends, their school mates, their classmates, their neighbors, very different, but we all have this basic wh- what I call this basic spark of divinity in them as having been created in the image of God with free will to love or not love. Yeah.

Zarbock: When I was young, different meant bad.

Simons: Hmm.

Zarbock: Now, as I get older, I think what I'm doing is scooping into your language, to me different means potential for being extraordinarily interesting.

Simons: Oh, very. Again, I can't think of a- nothing more boring than- than- than having everybody like myself.

Zarbock: Sameness.

Simons: My God, that'd be terrible.

Zarbock: Yeah. What are we having for dinner tonight? Three scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Simons: (laughs) Right.

Zarbock: That's what we had for lunch, that's what we had for breakfast.

Simons: No, that's right. But we're also more acceptance of dif- differences now. We're mixed.

Zarbock: I ponder this, I think we are and yet I see this growing attitude towards we need more boundaries.

Simons: Yeah. Because people feel the need to put boundaries, but I- I will tell you, when I retired, both the church and state, when I- there were major changes have occurred. My bishop, my Episcopal bishop, was black in Southern Ohio, my Adjutant General was black, we reported to a black General, three star in c- in uh.. Chicago and uh.. Colin Powell was a Four Star, right? The bishop of this diocese here in North Carolina _____ is black. Uh.. there are women bishops. And I was addressing a- a- in your state of Tennessee, a National Guard- Air National Guard conference, and I was preceded by the female General officer, Major General, who is the chief of Air Force chaplains. Now, I mean (laughs) changes can- we are people.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Simons: Yeah, with potential.

Zarbock: Thank you, sir.

Simons: You're welcome.

Zarbock: It's been a pleasure, my pleasure.

Simons: Well, it's- it's been.

#### End of Tape ####

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