WW II vet Simonds recounts war times

Former soldier says new technology could save lives if conflict arises

A Hood River combat veteran who survived one of the bloodiest wars in United States history believes that same scenario will never be replayed in future conflicts.

Duane Simonds, a decorated World War II soldier, expects technology to help modern troops avoid the high casualty rates seen on battlefields of Europe.

“I believe that if we go into this war with Iraq we’ll use technology that will allow us to sweep them away just like a broom,” said Simonds.

At the age of 71, Simonds is content to watch the current military operations unfold from the comfort of his Tucker Road home. But serious health problems of late have led him to record his involvement in more than one year of savage fighting that followed the storming of the Anzio beachhead by the 45th Infantry Division, also known as the “Thunderbirds.” Surrounded by memorabilia, Simonds is working on a legacy for his beloved grandchildren, a taped account of his grueling trek to Rome against fierce resistance — where the troops stopped to “wallow in sin” for a few days — before heading into France on their way to Germany. They stopped Naziism on its own home grounds when they freed prisoners held at the Dachau death camp and garrisoned in Munich.

“I was in law school when Hitler interrupted me,” recounts the Nebraska native who settled into the Hood River Valley in 1939 and enlisted in the Army in 1943.

Historians credit the desperate gamble to land a large amphibious force behind enemy lines in January of 1944 with breaking the military backbone of German leader Adolf Hitler and his Italian counterpart, Benito Mussolini. The price of the Thunderbird’s campaign was high, with 511 days of combat and casualty rates that topped 27,000 — second highest in the war for an American division.

But Simonds said there was no glory in the battle, with life reduced down to a matter of survival — often from the frigid winter weather as much as from heavy enemy fire.

“I saw people surrender to the Germans just because they would rather be shot or taken prisoner than freeze to death,” Simonds said.

And some of his closest friends were not so fortunate, and failed to survive the violence. He remembers the day that one of his last two comrades was walking across a field with him in Nuremberg and was mowed down by a sniper bullet just hours after getting promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

“I had seven friends, some of them with a wife and children, and they are still over there,” said Simonds. “Artillery was coming in night and day but I was an excellent rifleman and very fast — I guess that’s what saved me.”

But even battlefield horrors couldn’t lessen Simonds’ shock at the hollow-eyed, almost skeletal physical condition of the Dachau inmates.

“I had been immersed in death and ruin for months and I was still absolutely appalled, these people were nothing but bones and skin,” he said.

Although the Thunderbirds were attacked by civilians as they broke out of Nuremberg, Simonds said the war essentially ended for the soldiers at Dachau and from that point on the villagers welcomed them with cheers and offered them shares of their meager food supplies. He still treasures the heart on a chain that was given to him by one woman in repayment for her liberation.

“They made me feel like a hero, they had so little but they always tried to give us something,” he said.

He came home in November of 1945 to raise three sons and pursue a career as a professional welder. But it isn’t his war chest of combat medals that he draws the most pride from, it is the “Best Grandpa in the world” sign that hangs on his living room wall.

“I’m not sure war changes your life, it leaves you with reminiscences that aren’t exactly pleasant but you kind of learn to dismiss them,” Simonds said.

Latest stories

Latest video:

Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

Log in to comment

News from our Community Partners