Simcox one of few willing to talk about Vietnam experiences
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series that profiles Eastside residents who either served in Vietnam or whose names are featured on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. A traveling version of the memorial will come to Pickerington Nov. 10-15.
There aren’t a lot of Vietnam veterans who are willing to talk about what they encountered during their service.
However, Pickerington Police Officer Daniel A. Simcox figures he has “dodged the bullet” enough times that his life experiences can help others. In fact, he has talked about his military history so much in the last 22 years as a police officer, his students in the district’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program have dubbed him “Batman.”
“I used to be pretty mum about it,” Simcox admitted. “When I came back from Vietnam I couldn’t wait to get the uniform off because I was afraid of getting hurt.”
He recalled how Americans were torn about the Vietnam War, which was primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam.
The war began soon after the Geneva Conference in 1954 divided Vietnam into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). It escalated from a Vietnamese civil war into a limited international conflict in which the United States was deeply involved, and despite peace agreements in 1973, it did not end until North Vietnam’s successful 1975 offensive resulted in South Vietnam’s collapse and the unification of Vietnam by the North.
It was a long war, and the efforts of the U.S. troops were not always appreciated on the home front.
“They labeled us as baby killers,” he remembered. “People threw eggs at our airplanes.”
The atmosphere in the United States was so bad that when his tour of duty in Vietnam was over, he elected to be stationed in Germany instead of coming home.
“The more the war dragged on, the more people started to think we shouldn’t be there,” he said. “They didn’t see us winning. We kept losing American lives, so they thought it was a waste.”
Like many other soldiers at the time, Simcox didn’t have a lot of choices. As the son of an unsuccessful race car driver, he lived in 19 states by the time he graduated from high school in Lancaster.
“I only had one shirt, one pair of pants and I found my shoes in a trash can,” he remembered.
To help keep his family afloat, he founded a bread business at age 6. They didn’t have a lot of money for groceries, and homemade bread was filling and cheap to make.
“I was always making too much bread and giving it to many neighbors,” he said. “They told me to go into business – and so I did. That became our family business until I went into the service. I was selling 200 loaves a day, and it kept us together.”
Paying for college was out of the question, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969, and it turned into a 20-year career.
“They needed machine gunners for helicopters,” he said. “When they asked if anybody was interested, I raised my hand – but nobody else did, so I figured that wasn’t a good sign. I tried to get out of it, but they wouldn’t let me.”
Not longer after enlisting, Simcox became a member of the 57th Assault Helicopter Co., “The Gladiators,” which operated near the tri-border area of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
One day as they were taking off, their helicopter was shot down by the enemy, washing into a creek.
“It fell just like a rock,” Simcox recalled of the helicopter fall. “When it hit, it threw my head into the machine guns and I fell into the water.”
Simcox’s head landed on lily pads, which kept him afloat until help could arrive. The other four soldiers aboard the helicopter died in the assault.
That wasn’t his only near-death experience in Vietnam. As a member of the infantry division in 1970, Simcox’s unit was putting up mortars to build a perimeter near Qui Tri, South Vietnam, about 50 miles from Saigon. At this point Simcox was a sergeant with eight men working under him.
“We didn’t know the enemy was out there,” he recalled. They were ambushed by the Viet Cong with heavy machine gun and mortar rounds. Leaving the soldiers behind wasn’t an option, Simcox explained.
“Somebody had to go out there and get them,” he said. “So I took off there across the field, and I saved some of my men.”
Among the recognition he received for his efforts in Vietnam, Simcox was awarded the Purple Heart, a medal awarded to military personnel who are wounded or killed in action.
Close to his heart
Simcox is one of many central Ohio Vietnam veterans who are anticipating the visit of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall in Pickerington this Veterans’ Day.
As many as 60,000 people are expected to visit the post, 7725 Refugee Road, during its exhibition from Nov. 10-15.
The wall, which was created by a veterans’ group in Brevard County, Fla., is three-fifths the size of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. It stands six feet tall at the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end. It includes names of approximately 58,000 who were killed or missing in action in Vietnam, including 3,000 Ohio residents.
Simcox will be speaking during the closing ceremony on Nov. 14. He said he will talk about “Taps” and how the words to it were written.
During its visit to Pickerington, the wall will be open to the public daily at no charge.