Today is Memorial Day and I am thinking of all who have given their lives for our freedom . I am also thinking about those who did not die in battle but fought bravely for our country over the years. One of those people was my dad. His name was Kenneth Charles Simpson and he was the biggest and bravest man that I knew when I was growing up. Many a daughter could make the same claim about their father and there is something very wonderful when a girl can and does feel that way. I have so many vivid memories of my dad …he was the dad in the neighborhood pool throwing one kid after another into cannon balls and front flips and back flips until we couldn’t take it any more. He was the guy who tread water in the deep end underneath the diving board waiting for me to try my first flip off the diving board. He would not let me climb back down off that diving board no matter what. That was the rule for my brothers and I;  once we had climbed up on that board to do a certain dive, we were going off of that board and attempt the feat , but no way were we allowed to back down . I can remember trying front flip after front flip when I was about six years old and never making it completely all the way around, thus smacking my back each time I landed in the water. He would make me put on my red Penn State sweatshirt and would make me  climb up that ladder again while wearing that sweatshirt to minimize the sting when I hit the water. Eventually, I accomplished the front flip, sweatshirt and all. Standing at six foot three and wearing a flat top for much of my childhood, he was an imposing presence to say the least yet he was the guy in the neighborhood that everyone ran to with any sort of problem. He was a man of strength and resolve and an unusual individual. He joined the Army Air Corps at the tender age of nineteen and became a B-17 bomber pilot at age twenty. He was shot down on a mission two weeks before he was to marry my mother and became a prisoner of war for thirteen months. I can remember sitting in the kitchen eating dinner one evening when a very small dark piece of metal came out of one of the pores of his face. It was shrapnel from when he had been shot down and tiny fragments not much bigger than small dust particles would work their way through his system and out of his skin in his neck and face area for several years. He did not talk often or much about his experience of being shot down or his time as a prisoner of war. I do know that when he belly landed that B-17 bomber and was immediately surrounded by the Germans, that everyone on the plane was killed with the exception of he and his bombadier. I remember him telling my brothers and I that when they climbed out of the plane, that he saw the panic stricken look on his bombadier’s face as he was even younger than my father. My father shot  a glance at this fellow and winked at him to try to get him to relax, and when he did, he took a rifle butt to the left side of his head by one of the capturing German soldiers and he had the scar to prove it. I simply was in awe of my dad growing up. He died of cancer of the esophagus about nineteen years ago. At the time of his death, I was diligent to collect some of his personal items and among those treasures were some poems  that I stumbled upon that he wrote while he was a prisoner of war in Germany. He was in Stalag # 3 and I was stunned and moved when I read what he wrote . The following is one of his poems

 

                                         THANKS FOR THE MEMORY

 

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY OF KLIM CANS ON PARADE

OF TRINKETS THAT WERE MADE…LACK OF COKES- CORNY JOKES

AND TUNES THE  BAND HAS PLAYED- HOW LOVELY IT WAS

 

THANKS FOR MEMORY OF A SOLITARY CELL

OF EVENINGS AT APPEL- OF WASHING CLOTHES AND KRIEGIE SHOWS

AND BUNKS AS HARD AS HELL – OH THANK YOU SO MUCH

 

WE KEPT MUM AT INTERROGATION – WHILE WE SMOKED

CIGARETTES WITH A PASSION – PROTECTING THE RIGHTS

OF OUR NATION -  BUT WE HAD ENOUGH OF DU LAG LUFT – SO

 

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY OF A SING – SONG KRIEGIE TUNE

OF GENERAL IKE IN JUNE – OF FIGHTING YANKS AND ROARING TANKS

I HOPE THEY GET HERE SOON, OH – THANK YOU SO MUCH

 

PULL STUMPS TILL OUR BACKS ARE ALL BREAKING – AND WE YELL WHAT A BEATING WE’RE TAKING – BUT THINK OF THE DOUGH THAT WE’RE MAKING – THE PAIN SUBSIDES AND OUR SPIRITS RISE – OH

 

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY OF STALAG #3

THE HOME OF YOU AND ME, WHERE YOUNG SOULS BURN

KRIEGIES YEARN TO ONCE AGAIN BE FREE – OH THANK YOU SO MUCH

 

He survived his prisoner of war experience which was a miracle in itself. You see, he was in the exact same prison camp in which the great escape was attempted and when they marched my dad and the other prisoners in through the camp gate , they pointed out the graves of the Americans and other prisoners that sadly failed in their escape attempt. Because they entered the camp after this escape attempt, the treatment and the conditions were particularly harsh.  I also found many poems that spoke of the intense hunger that he felt during much of those thirteen months. The prisoners referred to themselves as “kriegies” , I researched this out and it is derived from the German word “kriegsgefangen” i.e., prisoner of war.  I am reminded as I read his words of the tremendous sacrifice and courage of all of our veterans who have given so much because they simply loved our country. What is amazing to me as I read all of his poetry and writings is the common thread of optimism and humor that resonates and comes ringing through. That is really no surprise to me though as that is the man that I remember…never flustered, never overwhelmed, but always pressing on with a smirk and a smart alec glint in his eye. Like many men who have served our country, he was truly an American hero. To me , he was my daddy and my personal hero. On this day, Memorial Day, I remember him and honor him for the man that he was.