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Wall of Heroes inductee recounts Korea’s ‘Frozen Chosin’

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. - Retired Marine 1st Sgt. Robert Simmons, who was inducted into the Cannon Airman Leadership School's Wall of Heroes April 14, recalls his experiences during his 20-year career in the military which included service in the Korean War. Mr. Simmons spoke at the ALS shortly before he became the 13th member of the  Wall of Heroes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. April Wickes)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. - Retired Marine 1st Sgt. Robert Simmons, who was inducted into the Cannon Airman Leadership School's Wall of Heroes April 14, recalls his experiences during his 20-year career in the military which included service in the Korean War. Mr. Simmons spoke at the ALS shortly before he became the 13th member of the Wall of Heroes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. April Wickes)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Every structure requires a firm, steadfast foundation and each piece of that structure relies on the foundation to uphold and support it all. 

The Airman Leadership School is an important piece in the structure of the Air Force and its students rely heavily on the foundation laid by those who have sacrificed so much for the sake of liberty and freedom. 

Retired Marine 1st Sergeant Robert Simmons helped lay that foundation with his 20 years, four months and one day of service to this country. On April 14, Mr. Simmons became the 13th member of the Wall of Heroes in an induction ceremony at the Airman Leadership School. 

“At the end of World War II, everyone wanted to go do something for their country,” said Mr. Simmons, remembering the patriotic fervor of more than 60 years ago. 

Mr. Simmons, also wanting to do something, enlisted in the Marine Corps nine days after his 17th birthday on Jan. 14, 1946 and, following boot camp, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. 

In September 1950, the 1st Marines were sent to Korea after the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea, advancing to within 100 miles of the southern tip of the peninsula. 

Mr. Simmons and his comrades, under the orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, launched an amphibious landing at Inchon in order to engage the enemy. 

Seoul was quickly recaptured and the North Korean People’s Army retreated back across the 38th Parallel. 

Allied forces pursued the communist army to the Chosin Reservoir where Mr. Simmons and the rest of the 1st Marines were ambushed by Chinese communist forces. 

When the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir began on Nov. 27, 1950, Allied Forces found themselves outnumbered 10 to one. 

Fighting in minus 30-degree weather, Mr. Simmons, now 21 years old, watched his comrades freeze to death around him. 

“I just snuggled down into my cold weather gear and just hoped that I didn’t end up like that too,” said Mr. Simmons. 

The Inchon invasion and the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir were the first images of combat Mr. Simmons had ever seen. 

“When I saw all that, all I could think is ‘this is exactly what I trained for,’” said Mr. Simmons. 

Mr. Simmons and the rest of the Marines continued to repel enemy assaults until ordered by General MacArthur to withdraw to Hungnam. 

On their way, Mr. Simmons and his fellow Marines found many North Korean civilian refugees retreating with them. 

Mr. Simmons and his comrades fought their way to the sea, bringing all their dead, wounded, equipment and evacuees with them. 

Knowing the Chinese army would kill captured refugees, the Marines held off the Chinese as more than 125,000 North Koreans were evacuated from Hungnam.
“We lost so many good men there,” said Mr. Simmons. “I hope Americans do not forget these men. I hope Americans remember these veterans coming back from the war today. I hope none of them are ever forgotten.” 

Mr. Simmons made his way out of Korea and back to the United States where he served in many assignments over the following 16 years. 

After his retirement on May 14, 1966, he returned to school, earned a degree in education, and taught elementary school for the next 17 years. 

“I also worked with the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization on educational projects. I really enjoy working with young people,” said Mr. Simmons. 

Mr. Simmons’ experiences over the past 56 years have had a profound impact on his love for his country. “My patriotism has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the Constitution of the United States. I love this country and I love the young people doing what they do for this country today,” said Mr. Simmons. 

Like many heroes, however, Mr. Simmons possesses a great deal of humility in regards to himself. 

“Me? A hero? I know my granddaughter considers me a hero and she can’t be wrong,” said a smiling Mr. Simmons. “To me, a hero is a person who gives of him or herself for the sake of others, not to take from others.” 

Perhaps unconsciously, Mr. Simmons verbalized the very criteria for the Airman Leadership School’s selection of him to be the 13th inductee to its Wall of Heroes.
In its mission to honor those who have heroically served and built and paved the road that all servicemembers now walk, each Airman Leadership School class selects a local combat veteran to be inducted to the school’s Wall of Heroes. 

Mr. Simmons had profound respect for those who came before him. “I’m so proud to even be considered in the same breath as those before me. People like Santiago Hidalgo and the rest of the members of the Wall of Heroes, I am proud to stand among them.”