Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with William L. Sims

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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[Interview begins]

SPRAGUE: Today is October 15, 2021. This is an interview with William Lee Sims, who served in the United States Army from April 20, 1965 to April 19, 1967. This interview is being conducted by Luke Sprague at the War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. No one else is present in the interview room. Tell me about where you grew up, William.

SIMS: I was born in [personal identifiable information (PII)]. My family migrated to Milwaukee in 1952. I attended Lee Street high School here in 00:01:00Milwaukee. Roosevelt Junior High School and also North Division High School.

SPRAGUE: And what did your family do initially growing up and then in Milwaukee?

SIMS: My father was a foundry worker. He worked in a foundry in Cudahy, so he he traveled back and forth every day that he worked to the south side of Milwaukee. And my mother was a nurse's aide, so she worked out at the County institution until she retired. They both retired from working.

SPRAGUE: OK. After North Division High School, what what what did you do next?


SIMS: I enrolled at Ball State College in Muncie, Indiana. It used to be there was a teacher's college at first, then it turned into a university but went to school there for a couple of years. Then I flunked out, came back to Milwaukee in '64, got a job at A.O. Smith Corporation and I worked there. But I started working there and I think it was the fall of '60 '64 and I got drafted the following year.

SPRAGUE: So, that would have been the fall of '65 you got drafted?


SIMS: In the fall of sixty four I got to work, in the spring of 65 and when I got drafted.

SPRAGUE: What did your family think about you getting drafted?

SIMS: They were somewhat surprised like I was at the time. I had thought that I would work at A.O. Smith. I thought I'd save enough money and reenter school following the following year. But that didn't happen. Yeah.

SPRAGUE: Did you have any other feelings on being drafted at the time, that you remember?

SIMS: Ummm, it was an interruption for me at that particular time 'cause I 00:04:00thought that I had at least a little lease on life with that particular job that I had at A.O. Smith. I figured that I would save enough money and and do the everyday thing of finding a young lady and slowing down and getting married. But that never happened.

SPRAGUE: So tell me about basic training.

SIMS: I went to Fort Knox for my basic training. Um, after basic training, well, it wasn't that I didn't think it was that bad. I had been in pretty physical, physical shape. Uh, most of my life and I just felt that it was a challenge to 00:05:00get through with it. It didn't bother me that much. As a matter of fact, I had started planning on. I thought my future in the service for those two years, I thought that I would get trained at least of this whole year in my life, and then I would only have a year left to do. So, I had my first initiative was to to increase my income. And that meant to join the airborne training, which was, I guess, was supposed to be fifty-five dollars more for a PFC. So I thought that 00:06:00there was something to do, and by the time I get done with that training, I'd have opportunity to take some more training. And my ultimate goal was to end up in Europe, someplace that was in my mind. Little did I know.

SPRAGUE: So why? Couple of things here. Uh, explain to the listener why you get more money for airborne.

SIMS: Well, it's it's the training, I think initially and then a you're looking at the stamina that it takes to do certain things and definitely in jumping out of the plane and landing and taking the fight to the enemy. Um, that that seemed 00:07:00adventuresome to me. And as I said that fifty five more dollars, I thought could go a long ways. You know?

SPRAGUE: So after basic and airborne school. Was there any was there any more training in there that you took advanced training or?

SIMS: Well, you know, after you go to basic training in advanced training school and then from advanced training is going to go to the jump school, you know?.


SIMS: But yeah, you got a regular training, you know, basic training and advanced training and then jump school and or after jump school, they send us straight to Vietnam.

SPRAGUE: Okay, before we jump to Vietnam, do you have any memories of jump 00:08:00school, any fond memories?

SIMS: Mmmmm, the only memory I recall that 'cause when they when they took us up on the tower 300 foot tower and dropped us off and learn how to deal with the risers, pulling your risers for directions, uh, I made a mistake and was pulling the wrong risers. I remember and I was floating into the other person's lane and I remember correcting myself. And once I got to the ground, the sergeant came up to me and told me that I had to be careful where I end up killing myself. All that type stuff. Yeah, but that was the only thing I ever come out of jump 00:09:00school. Um, the other incident was in the plane. I recall me being first and had to come out and the sergeant had his hand on my belt and he kept jerking me, you know, as I was looking out to get ready to jump, kept jerking off on my belt. But he didn't realize that I was ready because of that equipment weighed so much. I was ready to come up out of that plane. Get that equipment off me. So that was that was so sad when when the light came on, I really surprised him. He told me later on, a before I fire jumped out of the door. So, yeah, but that was 00:10:00quite a relief at first, that first jump.

SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember what kind of aircraft they were using?

SIMS: They they're using a C-130s.


SIMS: For us to jump out of. And so, yeah. And I think, all of my jumps. Even even in Vietnam, everything we only get a jump one time then they cancelled all our jumps. They said it was too dangerous. Oh yeah.

SPRAGUE: Maybe too much wind in the drop zone, or?

SIMS: Well, they had punji sticks and all types of stuff scattered around. A guy like that would drift off to the drop zone area that they had so, it was a 00:11:00little bit too dangerous they thought after our first attempt. So they cancelled out jumping in Vietnam. They gave us our pay. But ahh.


SIMS: Cancelled it out. Which is okay with me.

SPRAGUE: Yeah. So tell me how you got to Vietnam. From the states.

SIMS: Ummm. Well, we left Fort Benning, went to California, uh, transported from California to Hawaii and from Hawaii to Vietnam. Which, I guess was almost about a the day in travel. I caught pneumonia between Hawaii and Vietnam, I guess 00:12:00exchanging those planes and that air conditioning, you know, hot and cold, but I was standing in line in Vietnam and the sergeant came up to me and said I didn't look good, which I didn't feel good. I was a little woozy because of that heat had hit me all of a sudden. And he tellls me to step out of line and took my temperature and it was 103, so they sent me to the hospital. And that was really eye opening experience for me for a simple reason. This was an evac hospital where most of the guys had been wounded and they were being sent back to the states. And and the guy, I was standing in the chow line one day, as I think was 00:13:00the second or third day and and the guy asked me where I was in for and a I told him pneumonia. And they all looked at me and said, Well, you're just you're in a hospital with pneumonia. Yeah. Which was, I guess, a little odd for them too because they were all being shipped back to the states with war wounds, you know? And so, you know, for me, the first time I saw a guy, you know, that was amputated and limbs amputated. So I couldn't understand why they were looking at me standing in line with pneumonia. So, yeah, that was that was my first experience. And uh.

SPRAGUE: That was your first experience in country?


SIMS: Country, yah.

SPRAGUE: Whereabouts was that? Do you remember?

SIMS: That was, I think we, where were we at? We were in? Was it Tan Son Nuht? I think we came to Tan Son Nuht Air Base. I can't recall, really. I mean. You know.

SPRAGUE: No worries.

SIMS: Yeah.

SPRAGUE: So what was the next thing that happened after you get out of the hospital or evac hospital?

SIMS: They assigned me to the unit and I recall being trucked to a unit on on one of those mules. Somehow, that way. And my first experience after getting to 00:15:00the unit was they had me to go to report to the sergeant and he he assigned me to my platoon and. I was sent to the platoon. I mean, you have to squad and when I got to the square. I was just told to sit down and watch the fireworks. They were bombing a hill, OK? And I think we stayed here about 45 minutes watching them bomb that hill. That was my first experience with the company in itself and 00:16:00getting accepted into the company watching them bomb a hill. .

SPRAGUE: What did you think of that when you saw that?

SIMS: It was eye opening, quite naturally, all the noise in to the see the napalm, you know, that was just being dropped on that hill. I hadn't, quite naturally, experienced anything like that. And that was eye opening quite naturally my first experience there and one of my comrades said, "Hey, get used to it you this, you, because you're going to see a lot of this. So, yeah.

SPRAGUE: Can you tell me a little bit more about what unit you were in?

SIMS: I was with the 2nd 327nd Infantry unit. Umm, always first we were we were 00:17:00constantly being deployed into search and destroy missions. Close to the DMZ. Off and on. You know, that first. First three months well actually the first six months was spent in the jungle. I mean, you go from place to place. We we were first and then we were assigned to Phang Rang where Camp Eagle was first initiated. And as I said we stayed on the field for three months. Get that first 00:18:00initial move, so that was something quite different from me. 'cause you didn't recognize a place after you got back to it, they had turned all those tents into qounset huts and all that. So that was quite different. They even had even roadways they had made roads, which was different, too. So yeah, we saw quite a change in those six months

SPRAGUE: Do remember what company and platoon you were in by chance?

SIMS: I was with the 2nd 327.


SIMS: Second platoon.


SPRAGUE: Second platoon. Okay, okay. So what was a typical day like?

SIMS: Um. Get up, um, clean up the best way you can. Yeah. Find out what's happening who is going out on patrol today. Was assigned to perimeter duty or the mess hall or whatever, you know, going to be assigned to that day. If not, some of the guys were able to wrangle or wrangle passes into until the town's 00:20:00stop, it all depends on what they had arranged for us.

SPRAGUE: You said you spent three or six months in the jungle, roughly.

SIMS: Yes.

SPRAGUE: How was that in terms of what you did there versus what you did inside the perimeter? Those were different, I assume.

SIMS: Yes. A lot of that was just pulling guard duty, perimeter duty, you know, walking to search and destroy, going to villages. Those type of things. Search in villages for weapons and things of that nature. That is mainly it, trying to 00:21:00get information on where the enemy was located at. Umm. Periodically, we ran into sniper fire bog you down maybe three or four hours you know in a spot before you can call in any types of support. I think the monotony of it was not knowing what could what was going to happen next. So those were the type of things that you constantly being made aware of. And then they had the propaganda leaflets that they were dropping around us, especially us minority veterans 00:22:00would be inundated data with their propaganda, well which was true in a sense. What were you doing over here G.I. when you have a flight back home in America for your own race and they you know. I remember the sergeant, tell us "Don't read that." Come on man, what do you mean? Don't read that? Yeah, gee whiz. I mean, you walking through it. The guy going to pick it up, you know, all of them know how to read. Yeah so OK, you say, throw it down. So they read it already. You know, gee whiz, what's it? Well, I mean, it is propoganda, we know what they are trying to do, some of us do at least. But uh.

SPRAGUE: So how often did that happen?

SIMS: Aaahh, a couple of times, every once in a while, you it would be 00:23:00noticeable when they would sniper the white guys in your in your company, you know, like you walk into a field and they would pick off the white guys, you know, and everybody was, you know, stop and then a they say. And then, you know, you got to call it the helicopters to get these guys or, you know, their wounded. So it, you know, tending to slow you down. You know, you find out that that was happening, but you can't move no place. Because if you do try to move someone else, a sniper a fire at you, you know, you just get confused and that type of tactic would be going on.

SPRAGUE: I'm curious, I'm one of your documents it lists that you were trained 00:24:00to be an 11 Charlie, but they had you out pulling patrol. Is that? How does that work together? Are straight me out on that?

SIMS: Well, if they don't have anybody to fulfill the position, right? Yeah, I was a rifleman and then I ended up on point. Now the thing of it is I was a little bitter with that for the simple reason. When I first got there, it broke my glasses. I was wearing glasses. I broke my glasses. And the colonel sent me down to get my glasses replaced. Well, I stayed there and set me down a Phan Rang I'll never forget got stay there all day in line, waiting for them to fix my glasses. Nothin' happened. So they sent me back. They said, you had to come 00:25:00back again, you know, the next day. Well, they did that. I think I went down there twice and no results, right? So the only other glasses I had was shades. So now I'm out of there, you know? And I thought that I had a. A uh. Yeah, he was racist, a racist sergeant, that thought that was funny and put me out front with some shades of. And even at nighttime, I remember one time, he assigned me to go out with the patrol at night. You know, I had shades. It was somethin'. But I did. Ended up I remember ended up leaning over him, trying to save his 00:26:00life. He got shot through the neck. Blood was pouring out and we couldn't put a tourniquet. You know that was it. He had he bled out. But he was the one that talked about us as scum. The guys at that time, young guys, you know, we certainly got 18, 19 years old smoking marijuana. He. He said you that you guys are nothing but scum. I never got that. And I said is that how your are talking to young guys, "You guys are nothing but scum, we don't, we don't do that." Ahhhhh. This guy is 18, 19 years old, man, you know, coming out of college, high school. This guy, is you know, experimenting ain't nothin' but a bit of marijuana, you know? You know, marijuana. He called them scum, man. And I 00:27:00remember those scum was the ones that was trying to save his life. I never forgot that. I said, wow, people don't know things. Certain things they just spout off like that. And they used to look at him like that man he was, he was one of those staunch, staunch, lifers. You know what I mean. But he called 'em scum. "You guys ain't no scum going around smoking that marijuana." And those were the ones that was trying to save his life. And then I thought about that, and they really played a lot of role with me. [noise in hallway] And he was an E-7. That's what we look at. And he was from Wisconsin too upper parts of Wisconsin someplace. But yeah, I'll never forget that.

SIMS: Do we want to say his name or do we want to leave that alone?

SPRAGUE: I think we...

SIMS: Leave it alone.


SPRAGUE: So for the listener what is the experience like walking point? If you can tell us about it.

SIMS: Well it's, it's, a feeling of awed to me. And you got to put yourself. In an aspiration of being all powerful for the simple reason you're leading men. And they could easily put you in a position where they could cut you off and wipe out, your menyou could lead them into an ambush, in other words. OK, so you 00:29:00got to be aware that you are leading men. And that's one of the things you don't want to do is to take them into their death. So it's a heavy responsibility man and you're always on the lookout. You're looking in from a tree and you don't know. You don't know, really. When I got wounded. I was I was scheduled to go on R&R and they had a big conflict that was going on. And so they canceled out everybodies R and R and helicopters came back to get us to go forward to front, back to the front line. And I never forget it because of how of all of the next 00:30:00one to go on R and R. And I'am sitting back at base camp and the helicopters come in say, OK, all your guys', that's going on R and R all that's canceled. We need you guys to go up front. We're having some action up front. So I'll be dog gone.

SIMS: So we get in the helicopter, get up front, get out. And these young guys, there's just about seven new recruits, seven or eight of 'em and they were sitting in a group four over here four over there. And they were just sitting there and just profusely sweating. I said, man, ain't nobody told about getting a sweat band or some wire put around me. So I seen a sheet on the line and never forgot that. It was a green sheet, too. So I went got the sheet and I tore up 00:31:00some strips, I gave it to each one of the them. I said, Hey, man, you guys use this for sweat bands around your head. Yeah, OK. So it's sort of lieutenant looks up at me and says, OK, Sims, you're back with us. You take point. One of the young guys, young white boy, I'll never got him too. I guess he wants to be impressive. He says "Sims take point on on a left flank, outside those bushes." So he breaks through the bushes and when he breaks through the bushes you hear "Pow, Pow. Oow!" I heard an "Ow" and I said, so would I come out of the bushes? I look right. And he's laying down. I said, we have received some fire, sir, because I knew he had to be hit. We see some fire on the left flank. Soon, as I said that man, everything seemed open. Pow. Pow, Pow. Pow. Pow, man. I said 00:32:00let's look at this. My weapon jams and the guy next to me is coming behind me. His weapon jammed after trying, and I said "Try to clear your weapon man, try to clear your weapon." But he goes into shock. OK? I saw ah man look at this. So, so so I'm trying to get my weapon squared away and I'm moving, getting out of the line of fire, then and then I looks up, man, and I see this grenade coming. I said, "Oh shit." So I hits the ground "boomp" and I can hear it bouncing boomp, boomp, boom, oh man by my leg. My leg, I feel my leg lift up. OK? And I said, ah man, I hope, I hope it,I hope my leg is still and I looked down and my leg was there. I had my boots on and it was real tight right? but I looked to 00:33:00the side and I see this hole. I said, "Oh, what?" I said, "Oh man." And then I tried to get up, I said "Oh man" and the I see the blood coming out. I said "Oh man," this shrapnel hit my leg. Well, I gets up. And I said, well, man, I need to get out of this position here.

SIMS: Meantime, I look and see that the lieutenant and he was in the middle of a peanut patch, I dunno, he's leading the men toward certain certain things, I guess. And they hit him in both of his legs, broke both his legs. He was laying there. So I grabbed him by the collar and I dragged him about 20 feet, and I see this manhole, this manhole is there, this is must have been one of their 00:34:00positions at one time. So pushing him down, I looked in, on the way in there. Lieutentant pushed him into the manhole, grabbed his 45. I crocked it and gave it to him. I said, sir, [inaudible], you're on your own. And when I turn around same time, this young young guy, white guy jumps up, machine gunner, named Mooney. He jumps up and starts firing their machine gun. And you must have got off, maybe about 10 or 15 rounds. But he was standing up and he shouldn't have been standing up man they hit him from down here all the way up the side. You heard him yipe, "Yipe!" And then he fell over the machine gun. I said, Oh man, no, I'm not that. And he was about 20 yards from me and I said, Oh my, they can't get that machine gun. I ain't got no weapon, so I said, Ah I am going to get that. So Iimped over there towards the machine got him pulled him off the 00:35:00machine gun. He done bleed into the chamber, so now I'm cleaning out the chamber. And by the time I cleaned out, the chamber, locked it down, cocked it, sure enough I look to my left man, I see two guys coming out of the bushes man and I fire I just turned and fired. Soon as I started firing they turned and ran back into those bushes, man and I and I let the machine gun follow 'em back up in there. Okay. So then I lays down then I just lay there, man. Waiting on some action to come and I'm here and all this action on all sides and everything. And all of a sudden, "Rrrrrrrrr" a helicopter comes out and bombs it, starts firing at the hill, I said, "wo, wo," atleast somebody called in some support. OK, so now, now, now there's really a lot of support going on, and now you hear a lot of firing and stuff like that. Then it gets quiet. Now,


SIMS: I guess some of the reinforcements that came in from the rear. And then all of a sudden I turn around. I see some guys coming, you know, I know it's our people, right? And the guy says, Hey, are you hit? I said, Yeah, um, um in my leg, in the leg. So yeah, I can see it now. Your leg, you're wounded, you say well, we got reinforcements. The, we're calling in helicopters and you'll be in a few minutes and some guys are going to replace you. I said, OK, cool. So sure enough a couple of minutes some guys came up to replace me and put me on a stretcher and is taking me back to the helicopter. I look down at all seven of those guys that I've been given those sweat bands to are laying there dead, 00:37:00never forgot that. All, seven of 'em man, I said "Damn." And this incident happened. All, this happened within an hour. They were picking me up and take me back. Take me to the hospital. One hour man. I'd never forget. And that's why I don't wear watch today because it looked at my watch. I said "damn" 'cause I had I used to always wear watch because being on point, right, I always look at my time, timing, you know, a guys says well "hey" you got about five clicks to get to this point. And he showed me on the map. I said, "We're going to take this route and this route, and I look at my time. See, okay, how long will it take, you see? He said it should take us about about two hours, and I try to make sure that we at our point in two hours to to rendezvous, you know, with other group.

SIMS: So. So that was my experience where I was awarded the Bronze Star the "V" 00:38:00for valor. But yeah, that was something, man, I know the whole thing was an hour. And I said, gee whiz. And the thing of it is now when I gets to the hospital after they done operated on me and sowed me if I had stitches, I had a scar here it had eight stitches in it and and it was a scar in this leg a shrapnel went all the way through. And then there was a piece of shrapnel that was still there that the doctors hadn't gotten out. And I kept feeling it, feeling something, and I told the nurse, man what is this. I said. He said, "Oh, I got to call the doctor." He said, looks like that's just something lodged in there. And it was a piece of shrapnel still in my leg. Okay, now after they'd 00:39:00operated on it. I said "Well what kind of [inaudible]" And so he called a doctor and the doctor comes over and he looks at it and he says, "Oh yeah," he said, "Oh", he looks at it. Oh, "You're airborne, huh?."

SIMS: I said "Yes sir, I am Airborne" Ah, this isn't goin' to hurt. So, so he says something to the nurse? Give me a suture. So and so and guy gave a suture and I'm looking at it and he lays down "Zzzzzip" snips my leg, I am looked and looked at, what is this? Hey man, so, so, so sweet. He digs down and pulls the sharpnel out. I said, "Hey, give it to me since you done pull it out my leg, give it that's mine. Yeah. So he gives it to me. "You a paratrooper, ha ha." And then he walks on off. And then I look at the nurses assistant and I said, Hey, man, what kind of guys you man that this doctor come up here, man, and do something like that to me, man, I'm laying up here, with this embedded in my 00:40:00leg. You goin' to let him use those sutures to pull that up out of my leg without giving me nothing, man. He said, "Well, man wo wo wo, me and my," I went off on him okay. I told him listen man, hey. So so they had to send me to Japan because it had set up an infection. See what I am saying. But I was glad that once he told me that I was glad, so great, I know I ain't coming back here, you know? So that was that was my out of Vietnam. Yeah. They mis, mis, mis diagnosed that piece of shrapnel that they left in my leg, man for a day could've poisoned poisoned my whole system too man. But but a bump came up see, and that's why I knows that. So I mean "What is this bump on me, Mos?" And the guy looks at it, "Oh man, that don't look right. I said, "I know it don't look right. Feels like there is something in there." I felt it and he said and the Dr. come in, oh year something in there.



SIMS: So, yeah, that was my experience there, so I stayed there in Japan for six months and then that's when they awarded the medals and then they sent me home, send me back to the fort, Fort Campbell.

SPRAGUE: Okay, so did you keep the piece of shrapnel?

SIMS: I kept it then I misplaced it someplace, man? Over the years, because I had it, I still got that handkerchief. That is at the house that he put it in some type of way I lost it, that piece of shrapnel, man, 'cause I was going to have it embalmed.

SPRAGUE: So the date of that injury was?

SIMS: June, I meant to bring it was June, it is written in a VFW book, it was June and June 19th, the battle lasted June 19th, 20th and 21st. I think it was 00:42:00about three days. And in the end, they discovered it was a three tier hospital, OK? They had over 1200 patients in it,they had. They called in, it was the 101st, the 1st Cav, a marine division. It was over. We ended up with over like, I think like 1200 casualties man from that battle. And it was written. It was written, is written in the annals.

SPRAGUE: Yeah. Now what I found was June 20th was but that may or may not be right.

SIMS: It was. It was June to June, the 19th and 20th and 21st W. I believe it was. I think it started on the 19th.

SPRAGUE: Yeah, I'm talking about your injuries.


SIMS: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. And I got injured on the 19th.

SPRAGUE: Okay. My bad.

SIMS: Yeah.

SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember that the books that I've read have called it Operation Nathan Hale, but you you may in some it was by Trung Luong, maybe or ?

SIMS: Something like that sounds like.

SIMS: Yeah, I got that book in my storage area man. It is a VFW book that they had sent me about all the battles of Vietnam. And yeah, it's talking about how [inaudible]. How many days it was.

SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember the. You know what? Do you think at all about those, those seven men at all, or do you just try to?

SIMS: Yeah.

SPRAGUE: Or let that go?

SIMS: Oh yeah, well, I mean, every once and awhile that comes around.

SIMS: No, after coming out of the service and running into so many Vietnam vets, 00:44:00we initiated the Interested in Veterans of the Central City. And then from there I started working with more and more veterans. I ended up working with the VA for a year or so to Vet Center okay, which made me more aware of what was happening with myself and what I could do to help other veterans to say I left of the Vet Center because they didn't deal. They didn't deal with other than honorable discharges, which was affecting minorities greatly, especially during the Vietnam War. Guys were coming out with bad discharges, man for not being able to tie these shoes and all that crazy bullshit that they just wanted to get the guys out of the service. Man they gave 'em bad discharges and stuff like that, which they served meaningful while they were in Vietnam, but they had no 00:45:00use for them now. So they got rid of a lot of guys like that now. Not recognizing that these guys have some conditions that most people don't even deal with. But, you know, that's that's part of our war game. And then especially after the Pentagon Papers came out, God they oooh, that was really something isn't it.

SPRAGUE: Tell me about Pentagon Papers and that.

SIMS: Well, you know, what was the lady's name? The Maude la Victor discovered the Pentagon Papers was dealing with Exxon, and all those big oil companies were getting money from us, from offshore drilling and all of that in Vietnam. And so that's what the American's interests was in. And Vietnam was their resources 00:46:00that they were using the young guys as the cannon fodder to get those resources. Man they didn't care. Talking about democracy, they don't won't no democracy in there. So, you know, the United States has been doing a lot of that stuff, man, over the years, using folks for their own means and a risk getting richer and the poor get poorer. And it's a bad situation that we're in today, man I said to him. I think of all the lives guys, young guys giving giving up for his country, trying to just make a living, you know?

SPRAGUE: So let's get back to the Interested Veterans of the Central City. Mm hmm. Tell me more about that.

SIMS: Well, when I got out in sixty seven, I ran into a couple of guys on the street. One was that really impressed me was a guy named Jerry Berry. He worked 00:47:00with the Frederick Douglass Center. And they were working with veterans contacting veterans because a number of veterans weren't aware of their benefits. And he was one of the guys that got me interested. They were having a veterans town hall meeting there, in the inner city and he had contacted some guys and I was one of them to meet. And that's when we formed the Interested Veterans of the Central City and we didn't get incorporated until 1969. We took two the papers up to Madison and got incorporated and started working with, uh, making more minority veterans aware of the benefits, uh, staged demonstrations 00:48:00down on Water Street when the VA was located on Water and Buffalo. We demonstrated with the Vietnam veterans against the war to make it more available for benefits.

SIMS: The VA had a program where they had these chess clocks on their desk and they were set for 15 minutes and at the end of 15 minutes it would go off, man, "ring" and they were hit it and you'd have to go back and sign up again to get some benefits. This is on Water Street man. It is something we couldn't believe that. So so we demonstrated against the tactics that they were using for us, Vietnam vets. And most of the things that we were saying to them was you didn't 00:49:00give us 15 minutes in Vietnam, and that's what that's what we used to chant. We want more than 15 minutes, 15 minutes, you know, and we walk around in front of a demonstration in front of the VA about those 15 minute clocks. And we had them taken. Take it, take it, taken out. Now we that's when we first started doing a lot of demonstrations, man, you know about the state didn't have no no ways of making veterans aware their state benefits. We we worked with the state to start that program of outreach, their outreach program with the John Moses. I think John Moses was the first one that we worked with, started doing the outreach. And I remember being hired as an outreach by using my car, getting mileage they 00:50:00pay for mileage and minimum wage. And I mean, you know, small wage at that time to go out. Take information to individuals in rural areas and leave it in there, their mailboxes, or knock on the door and see if they're there and talk to them about benefits of stuff of that nature.

SPRAGUE: Now was a state program or a federal program?

SIMS: That was a state program that was a state program OK. We had had them to start training us on Saturdays at the VA when it was on on Water Street. We convinced them that we had some guys that were interested in benefit counseling and that we would come even on Saturdays to be trained if they would have 00:51:00someone to train us. So we could take the word out to the people in the community with the benefits that they had coming. So they started doing that and we would spend like four hours Saturdays down at the VA for a month. And I got a certificate at my house now man that they awarded me as it relates to finishing their training program for benefits. And that's why we started. We go out talk to veterans about, I mean, you know, you had better housing benefits, educational benefits, and then I ran into going to UWM and that's when I ran into Mr. Wynn here. And he was instrumental in, you know, working with us to 00:52:00sort of solidify what we were doing with the Interests of Veterans of the Central City, which eventually turned into the National Association for Black Veterans. Yeah. So yes. Yeah, it is. It's been an interesting journey, man for me.

SPRAGUE: Could you tell me a little bit about Thomas Wynn a little bit more, if you could?

SIMS: Yeah, ran into him he was assigned to deal with all veterans coming to UWM when Dr. Speight's was in charge of the program programing out there in Admissions. And his specialty was to make sure that we get all we did did all he could do to admit the veterans into UWM so that they had some different programs 00:53:00that were Upward Bound programs and all that type of stuff. That and that's when I first ran into Mr. Wynn, and from there we started organizing around the city and talking to people on the south side and different organizations about what we wanted to do. Bring some awareness to our benefits and what's needed for Vietnam vets, and we started talking about it even at that time. They call it the post-traumatic stress syndrome. So we started talking about that and getting more vets involved, going on demonstrations and dealing with the Agent Orange issue that came up in the 80s, going to Washington DC to conferences about Agent 00:54:00Orange and making more and more vets aware of that because there was a lot of different symptoms that was happening. They didn't know what was going on with themselves, man breaking out in rashes and stuff. And they found out about that herbicide.

SIMS: And that was another thing that turned off a lot of vets to hear the fighting for the United States being poisoned by the United States, then being denied. Being poisoned by the United States is was crazy man. Absolutely wild. Well, so yeah, there's a lot of bitterness, man that was going on amongst Vietnam veterans coming back and then being being spit upon and and it talked about as baby killers and all that type of stuff. War is war man. You know, they 00:55:00just like people found out in Afghanistan, they use all types of tools. They use their own kids to blow you up, but you never find that out until you in there, see. But yeah, there's a lot of negative things that happened during Vietnam. That turned a lot of folks off especially the ones that served, but how the country was treating 'em, you know, and ended up treating it after years and years of neglect. And then they then they started talking about it. But hey, I mean, you guys, that we lost doing suicides too, see. This is not the first time that you know, they talk about veterans with suicides. Man, that's been going on since Vietnam. Well, probably even before Vietnam. Veterans go through quite a 00:56:00bit man in trying to readjust themselves to society because of their training and what they've been doing. You know, to get, reacclimated it takes quite a bit and people don't realize that they think you can just take that uniform off and just walk back into civilian life. You be OK. Doesn't work like that. So, yeah. That's where were I've been at. And and to this day, I still find time to work with veterans. But hopefully doing the right thing, trying to lead 'em, leading 'em to some some of the benefits that they have coming.

SPRAGUE: Did you did you have any experience with did you see differential 00:57:00treatment for African-Americans versus white Americans in terms of their veterans benefits?

SIMS: Yes, it was. It is it's a systematic type of thing that was going on that was in neglect, just like the rural veteran being neglected. As long as you're in the city, you're OK, but you got to think about it. I mean, everybody don't stay in the city. And then and then the ones that do stay in the city, think about where they all staying at. I bet you we have a number of minority veterans there on the north side that are still being underserved, you know? Um, and 00:58:00that's been going on since my father's time. OK, my uncles, I remember my uncle just always talk about coming back and not being able to get the GI Bill like their white counterparts got being able to get loans and move into housing like your great counterparts got all that type of stuff, man. And it showed definitely after Vietnam, it really showed. You know, even when I came back, I had signed up and paid my union dues just to keep my job right. And then when I came back and took the information from the doctors, the doctors said that when you have some problems with your legs, you need a [inaudible]. Because on the wound was on the nerve, he said. You need to get off of it get off of it that 00:59:00means that, you know, rest your leg.

SIMS: So when I would take off at A.O. Smith, maybe maybe a couple of days. But I'd generally try to take off close to the weekend so I had a long time you know. Man they started trying to get on me about that. But see, I brought the letters from the doctors when I first came back and I submitted it to them. So each time you try to come on me like that man, I'll go to the union and you can't do that to him. I mean, he did. He brought in letters and you accepted the letters. The government said if the leg hurt, he needs to get off it. So now they start to harass me because I was on that on the cadillac line. You know, welded on the cadillac line. It ain't like that, you know, I take off two or three days. [Inaudible] They couldn't make their quotas and stuff like that, 01:00:00too, so they they'd be pissed man at you sometimes. So they finally harrased me long enough. I'm tired of this man, I don't wanna? So I got off of welding altogether, and went into the maintenance department tuning up stuff just to keep all that harassment off me, man. And then eventually I ended up quitting. If I could stay, if I stayed one more year, I would have been able to get that pension. I mean, you know, that money. But it was I didn't find about it till that time. That's a gag. I could've try to push myself a little bit longer to get that pension money. But I didn't because I was there for six years with my military time. I think you needed eight. So, yeah.


SPRAGUE: So what was the feelings like between the national guardsmen and reservists who stayed back side versus people to have to do active duty? What was that about during Vietnam?

SIMS: And there was a little shaky too. But once they, you know, they recognized that you were a Vietnam vet, they couldn't they didn't say too much, man, because they knew that hey. That's a whole different story than than playing soldier. That's how we used to always call 'em. Are you guys playing soldiers? They didn't like that. [laughing] You didn't say that to the other guy, "I saw you guys playing soldier." "What!?" I said "Yeah, I saw you guys playing 01:02:00soldiers." "Why don't you volunteer to go to Vietnam man?""I am going to do what?" and "Rrrrrr...and you're crazy."Man OK, well you playing soldiers then [inaudbile]. So yeah, those are the type of things that got got you in a lot of confrontations sometimes to man with some people. I don't like the idea. They always calling us baby killers and stuff like, and it ain't like that. But ah.

SPRAGUE: Who? Who? Was who was calling you baby killers?

SIMS: Yeah. You know, it is a lot of the demonstrators sometimes you know, when you be out there demonstrating about walking, you know about your benefits. Are you baby sitter and baby killers need to stuff. But yeah, yeah. People got opinions, you know, everybody has an opinion.


SPRAGUE: So let's hop back here to National Association for Black Veterans.

SIMS: Yeah.

SPRAGUE: NAB-V. Ummm. Tell me about your involvement with the Eclipse.

SIMS: I was the manager to send out Eclipse to the bulk mailing. I help to do the bulk mailing I'd get the Eclipse together and take it down to the post office. And they would send it off. I was involved with doing the layout for the Eclipse. I uh, I had I majored in art when I was in school, so I did a layout for the Eclipse. That's part of my artwork. I did the layout for the Center for 01:04:00Veterans Issues also, a lot of people don't know that you know who is trying to, you know, cut down on costs and a lot of other things. So I utilize my skills in the best of my ability to do what we could do, especially something like that. It would be good to contribute to that. And Mr. Wynn and a lot of the editing to the Eclipse and we worked with a number of other guys that were in the service that were writers and stuff like that and helped contribute to a lot of the things that we were talking about. And then we got other individuals to contribute to it from different parts of the country, bring articles and write about it and stuff of that nature. And I thought it was very successful. And as 01:05:00long as we get it, you know you.

SPRAGUE: What, yeah, the artwork or layout for Center for Veterans Issues. What was that regarding exactly or what part?

SIMS: Like the Center for Veterans Issues has a big CVI. CVI. I did that artwork. Yeah. Center for Veterans Issues. Ummm. And being one of the founders of the Center for Veterans Issue, you know, we were always looking at trying to improve the quality of life for veterans. We didn't have any type of shelter for veterans here outside of the VA. So we looked at places where we could house veterans giving up certain services that they needed to uplift them, to get them 01:06:00on the right road. And that's where we came up with the Center for Veterans Issues to be able to get some programing to 'em, be able to get 'em into the hospital if they needed needed some more assistance that we couldn't give 'em. So that's where all that came from. And also the initiative to make them feel worthy of themselves, you know, contributing back into the community. That was some of the things that we worked on in terms of our programing. But ah.

SPRAGUE: But can you tell me a little bit about in 1988? This Place North and This Place Park Hill.

SIMS: Uh, yeah, those were the two facilities that we established. Uh, after, 01:07:00uh, we felt that if the people graduated from our facility at This Place Central on 34th and Wales, um, they could get some housing and at one of our facilities there until they could give themselves up on their feet to move on. So those were two facilities that we have for, uh, for people that were working that couldn't afford to pay pay rent.

SPRAGUE: On our pre-interview phone call you said a little bit about finding the West Side Hospital. Can you tell me that story again?


SPRAGUE: If you want to.

SIMS: We were at, we were looking at the building over, uh, into the Potawatic 01:08:00community. And so when we left there, we came up Wales and then we turned on 34th Street. And as we we were, we were going to the hospital or some place. I mean, we were going to the VA or something like that. Anyway. We're coming down 34th Street and I look up and look and I see that sign for sale. I said, Oh, that's the old hospital there Tom. And that I had my appendix taken out. And its up for sale, he said, "It is up for sale." Yeah. Uuh, oh wow. I said, "Now that probably be a good facility, isn't it?' And he said "Yeah man let's look into it." And that's that's where it started at, that we got some money from the bank at that time and we looked at some assistance from Wisconsin Department of 01:09:00Veterans Affairs. And then we went from there.

SPRAGUE: Wow. So moving around a little bit, it is okay to call it NAB-V? Or should I?

SIMS: NAB-V that's.

SPRAGUE: NAB-V Okay. What are some of the you talked about PTSS before it was called PTSD.


SPRAGUE: Yeah. What were some of the other things that that that that organization focuses on?

SIMS: Well, we try to deal with families and youth, especially initially, uh, what the families are going through with veterans, you know? Um, and other times veterans have essential problems of drugs or alcohol abuse, and that affects the families, and we try to stretch out our services to meet some of their needs 01:10:00also. Yeah. Housing, we already looked at that, benefit counseling. Quite naturally, we always try to stimulate jobs first for some folks. Counseling, family counseling um. Any and everything that could possibly effect the family in a positive way. That's what we try to do.

SPRAGUE: What are some other things that you think in terms of NAB-V things that 01:11:00you think of this, this worked for us, this was good. This helped.

SIMS: Well. Initially, bringing bringing some of these problems to the forefront is good for not only that, but for the whole community to recognize that this is what's going on in people's lives. A lot of times, you know, military personnel likes the facade of being seen as just the strength and all that. But you know, it takes more than just that. It takes the community to help help realize their strength. And it needs to be bonded a lot of times man, so.


SPRAGUE: Hopping back to CVI, who were some of your peers at CVI and your involvement with them?

SIMS: Right now, I'm involved more more so with the program analysis program writer Helen King. She's been very instrumental and we've been working with her for over 30 years in terms of getting programs started, grants. She looks up grants helps us stimulate certain programs, extend certain programs, especially in terms of involving the family. We like to see that family being involved more in the whole situation and therefore we are solving more than just one 01:13:00particular problem, hopefully trying to attempt to solve a number of problems.

SPRAGUE: What um, do you see like, there's a core of people that you've worked with down through the years from NAB-V to CVI, a core group of people?

SIMS: Most of them have passed man sorry to say like Mr. Wynn, Bob Cocroft, most of 'em have just passed man, I mean, Dr. Barbie. Those with people that was very close to us as it relates to ideas and trying to stimulate certain things and making sure things are legal, those type of things are no longer around where 01:14:00you. Yeah, had that that that trust you know what I mean? You can lean on those individuals to give you their particular views and you could trust that. Yeah. And it's beneficial to the veterans community. You know, so.

SPRAGUE: You also served on the Wisconsin Council on Veterans Programs.

SIMS: Yes.

SPRAGUE: Tell me about that a little bit.

SIMS: Well, it is initially a number of different organizations come together to discuss issues around Veterans Affairs, benefits, what we can do to improve the lives of veterans and their families. We're constantly looking at certain 01:15:00positive things to do. You know, here it is. You have an individual that stands up to give their all for this particular country, and we tend to sometimes neglect that. And that sacrifice, man, we only see that at particular times when it is needed, supposedly, instead of understanding as needed every day really. To build a strong army, you got to have a strong country and it has to believe in it's Army and its purpose to me. And you've got to appreciate it. I mean, you know, the life that you live, I mean, you know, I mean, there's no better, but I understand country and in the world than the United States, but it can get better. So you've got to have a broader scope of doing things better. And I'm I 01:16:00was disappointed greatly. That's why I guess I spent so much time in trying to trying to correct some of the wrongs after Vietnam and seeing what had happened to us to make people aware that, you know, we got to do better than what we've been doing and I don't know what else to say. You know, to to be on top, you're going to act like you're on top, you, you're going to have to do better for your people and all that kind of thing and to make them to feel there there. That is all of them too not just one.

SIMS: Saving the community, all of the segments of the community.

SPRAGUE: So tell me a little bit. So tell me a little bit about this Veteran's 01:17:00Brain Trust Award established by Colin Powell that you received in 1990. Do you remember that?

SIMS: Yeah. Well, it was working around certain issues again trying to uplift the veteran programmatic type things that they saw that has happened over the years here in Wisconsin. What we've been able to do in not only a year, but influencing people in other states to to follow, follow, follow along or push ahead. You know, those are the type of things that we try to bring. I've been I've been working on a couple of things here, a sort of sort of tweak. Tweak things a little bit. And one of the things that have been veterans have a lot of 01:18:00voice here in this country, but they've never used it and I've been looking at it along with some other people of how we can utilize the and get the veteran out to utilize that vote. The politicians tend to neglect us, and we have a powerful voice if we use it collectively, VFW, American Legion, DAV, all the veterans organizations should be out. And that's what I look at veterans out to empower. Thats vote. And it's something to look at as relates to the definition 01:19:00of democracy is to vote and veterans have given that all for that to happen. And and I look at that and also volunteers out to educate thats vote. And that's the, that's maybe the women and to be able to to galvanize other volunteers to do something of that nature. But that's a very powerful statement man for us to be able to get out and vote and to make this a unified country that it should be.

SPRAGUE: So you have multiple veterans organizations that you served on since just after the Vietnam War. I'm going to ask you some of them, you were 01:20:00employers, some of them were organizations. And I'm just going to ask you for a little comment or feedback. I'd imagine we could spend hours on each one but try to grab some of what what that experience was like if you're willing to share. And I'm going to go through these and they're not necessarily in perfect order, but they're all about the same topic. And I'm curious about your experience with each of them. You had mentioned you had maybe worked for the VA for a time?

SIMS: Yes, I worked for them for, I think, a year and a half as a counselor for the psychological readjustment counseling at the Vet Center. I dealt with counseling veterans and reference to their reentering back into society and what 01:21:00to look for and what to be more aware of, especially in terms of how they were going to be perceived by the community. And I think it worked out pretty well. As I said, I got a little disappointed in that because a number of people were coming in with other than honorable discharges, which the VA cannot serve and I had to be the one to tell them that we can't serve you because of your discharge. And that was a that's hard to tell a fellow veteran some things, like you don't you can't get any benefits because you don't deserve supposedly, and they got some discharge from not being having their shoes tied, and all the 01:22:00crazy stupid stuff. So that's that's the thing that really got me man. I get these after serving over in Vietnam. Come back, man and get dismissed out of service or some stupid. Well, I guess they just didn't want to work with 'em.

SPRAGUE: How about you had you talked about this a little bit earlier and I think this is the same program the Wisconsin Veterans Outreach Program?

SIMS: Yes.

SPRAGUE: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

SIMS: And were that one particular time the Department of Veterans Affairs that hired veterans to do outreach? Okay. And I was assigned here to to Washington County and Ozaukee County as the outreach worker from Milwaukee to deal with 01:23:00contacting veterans and leaving information with them as it relates to how they can get their benefits. And if they had any questions, who to call and who to talk to?

SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember anything about, and this would have been the Interested of the Veterans of the Central City, if I have that correct, and Project WHERE?

SIMS: Yes, that was our first project. It dealt with welfare, housing, education, rehabilitation and economic development. That is what Project WHERE stood for.

SPRAGUE: And did you have any interaction with that or just awareness of it or?

SIMS: Yeah, that was our first program that we started that we could talk with 01:24:00veterans about, you know, if they needed welfare or housing, education, rehabilitation or some economic development. So yeah, that's that's that was one of our key components. ummm, when we first started, yeah, Project WHERE.

SPRAGUE: In some of the writing it talks about starting with the Interested Veterans and then NAB-V coming out of that like a core. Tell me about that a little bit, if you can, or what you can tell me.

SIMS: Well, most of the guys there, when we started with the Interested Veterans of the Central City initially, you know, grew out of, you know, doing that and going into their own jobs and stuff of that nature. So we ended up doing things 01:25:00that a lot of the guys just dissipated, you know, so we went from one thing, we started working with that and then we jumped from that to working with the incarcerated veterans at one time. So it was just filling the need, you know, where we felt that we could fit in at get in where you can fit in, you know? So any little thing and we're still working with the veterans that are incarcerated. And that's a great that's a great need that been unmet because a lot of guys hadn't got the right type of counseling and they still had benefits. Some of them did so.

SPRAGUE: So have you, you had worked as an outreach specialist for the Milwaukee 01:26:00Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program? Highly successful according to the Department of Labor. What can you tell me about that?

SIMS: Initially, we did similar things and make contact with inner city veterans. We'd try to cover the bases in terms of making them aware of the educational benefits and housing some job opportunities that existed. And we try to hook 'em up, um, different social services that was available to try to. I guess we tried to be an all around type of program to assist the vets within in all needs, you know?

SPRAGUE: Mm-Hmm. So I also have you down here. Did you do the same thing for the 01:27:00Social Development Commission or was that something?

SIMS: That was part of our program. You know, we we got funded through the Social Development Commission, to do a number of those programs and which was, you know, city and city ran. So we got funding from not only the city, but from the state and the federal government to run our programs as we we felt that we could, you know what I am saying wherever we can get get moneys to do the job we applied for and we're still doing.

SPRAGUE: How about the the Milwaukee Veterans Board? Does that ring any bells? I've heard. I don't know what board that is in particular, but

SIMS: That board generally. I think the Milwaukee Board meets at the War Memorial.



SIMS: Okay. I think Mr. Wynn was a part of that.


SIMS: And now I know that we have one of our of like a Mrs. Bernie Couser, Dr. Couser is our director of the Center for Veterans Issues. She now sits on the board of the War Memorial.


SIMS: Which is a pleasant, pleasant, surprise, female. She she's worked her way up through the organization to obtain that position. She's doing fairly well, too. I'm very proud of her.

SPRAGUE: Tell me a little bit about the at one point you had a radio station with Frank Beamon, and I think?


SIMS: Yeah, we were working on trying to get information out thru the radio, to veterans on certain issues and issues that we thought that was pertinent to the community. I still had to make some contact with him because there is a couple of things that I wanted to sort of stimulate to this day and see what his thoughts are about that.

SPRAGUE: And tell me a little bit about your organic therapy program.

SIMS: It was initially set up to deal with the veterans getting his hands dirty back into the dirt, and we felt that if the veteran could grow something himself and attend to it daily or bi-daily, he would get something out of it outside of 01:30:00growing the vegetable. The initial thing is to learn, learn about growing and you're learning about yourself at the same time. So those were some of the things that we felt were part of the program that were very good is being patient with yourself and being able to grow something that you could, uh, nourish yourself with. And that is food.

SPRAGUE: What else in terms of the organic and in the gardening, um, what do you 01:31:00think from what you've observed? What, how do the veterans feel after doing that with what is their reaction?

SIMS: Well, most of the veterans that I've encountered after they have experienced the season of growing it is the. The I guess, escalation of themselves being a part of something bigger than just themselves. They find that it's relaxing, it is thought provoking, and they are, as I said, growing. They can see it day by day, progressing to something that they can enjoy. So I think. 01:32:00It takes that to find your own patience and which you feel that is rewarding to you. You know. I think every person has their own rewards from from growing and seeing something grow. So that's where I'm at today.

SPRAGUE: If you could talk to future future leaders of veterans serving organizations, organizations that serve veterans, what wisdom would you share with them?

SIMS: I think mostly I would share with them to be able to listen to what has 01:33:00transpired to the individual that you're talking to their experience. The other thing is to understand that if things are going to change, there has to be some dialog between people for it to change. A lot being said, saying that, you know, sometimes communication comes hard to people that aren't used to communicating with people. Ummm. To be on solid ground of understanding that's. That's 01:34:00something that we all got to practice and is needed.

SPRAGUE: When you when you're talking about dialog, are you talking about the racial component of the dialog or something else?

SIMS: I'm saying all of that because that has to be considered. A lot of times people don't look at that but it has to be considered. Because it still exists today. So, yeah, yeah, yeah, sometimes, you know, people don't want to approach things like those type of issues because they they can be hurtful.


SPRAGUE: Mm hmm.

SIMS: Okay. We are human. And when you bring up certain things, is that it goes into your psychic, man. I mean, it's yes, we where we are, but we hey, we got to deal it in a way around. We got a deal. So that's that's where I'm at. I try to deal with every day as being a different day. We're going to come across some obstacles when we try to deal with the best way we can that is what life is about.

SPRAGUE: Where are we now in terms of serving African-American or black veterans?

SIMS: We're at a threshold where we need to recognize that people need to be 01:36:00elevated. Through deeds and things to to feel that they're a part of a solution man, instead of being isolated from it that we can all work to try to solve a solution. What would a solution? Those are the hardest things to deal with men because we all have our our own idiosyncracies that we work with, so anyway. That is where I am at right now.

SPRAGUE: Yeah, no worries. So and thinking back and, you know, decades of 01:37:00serving your fellow veterans, helping them help them working through their issues. What what were some of your proudest moments, the ones that stick out in your mind?

SIMS: One of the proudest moments was when I was working with the Vets Center and it was on Water Street and my office was in the rear of the building, like ah? That way. The door. Yes. Yeah, the door was just like there. And the guy comes to the door with a shotgun. OK. The counselor that that was in the room up there saw him get out the car, it's like that was the thing this end of the building. Saw him out the window. Get out the car with the shotgun. And he said, 01:38:00this guy's got a gun and he and he and he shouts out right? So there's four of us in the office him, myself, a psychologist and a secretary. They're all up front. I'm the only one in the back, right? The guy says I got a shotgun. I'm out here standing in the hallway when he says that right? Soon as he says that the guy, that did it ran into their rooms.

SIMS: [Laughs]

SIMS: Which I can understand, but I'm in the hallway. And the guy opens the door man standing there. And so I said, "Oh, oh" so I walked towards him. You know, I said, "Can I help you?" He's standing there, he's looking at me. "Yeah, you could help me." I said, "Well, come on. Come on. You a vet?" "Yeah, I am a vet." I said, "Well, come on, I'll talk to you." Follow me, now is the door to my 01:39:00office is about right here on this side, right, I'm walking. Walking back to my office. I said, "Hey man this my office back here, my office back here" So he walks with me. We gets to the office, I said, "Oh hey man. Put your weapon over here." Have a seat. Weapon over there. "Have a seat. So what's on your mind? Talk to me." Man we stay in there and hour and half, just talking. [Laughs] After that he done calmed down a little bit, he had some problems at work, people were harrassing him and stuff like that and I was trying to tell him what you had to do man you had to [inaubible] so on so on. So, OK, we you get out, I 01:40:00said, "Hey, man, come back two days. I want to see you, I am writing in my book, I want to see in two days we'll talk some more. OK?" He gets up, I said, "Just leave that there, leave that there," He comes out, now I come out with him. I say "I will walk with you out to the car. We will just talk some more." I get up. Me and him, I come when we get to the hallway everybody's standing there in the hall. [Laughter] Me and him is walking. I'm talking to 'em [aaaahahahha] in the end we will continue to do door, yeah man open the door. I say "I'll see you next week, OK?" Close the door.

SIMS: "Where the weapon at?" They had called the police out at the VA, right? 01:41:00They had came down here, OK? Now he is standing there. He is standing there with the rest them all in the front. Just looking at me, right? I said the weapons in the room, man. I say its unloaded, there ain't nothing else. And the guy was it was was really irritated about he was being treated at work and and so he wanted to let people know that he had this and this. We want to do. But I talked him out of that. So they took the weapon out to and I said, now, as said now, "the man wants his weapon back." I said, "Now when he comes, I'm am going to tell him that you have is weapon out here that he needs come out there go out there and go out and get his weapon as he now to me, I said its there's no reason for you to hold this weapon irregardless. I say, 'cause there ain't nothing in it, first 01:42:00of all, OK, and he done gave it up peacefully. So now give it back to him. OK, when he comes to get his weapon, you won't have no problems.

SIMS: So I gather he must have got his weapon. Cause I didn't hear anything else about that. They said, "What how did you do that? Would you do that for?" I said, "Hey, man, what else are we going to do? I mean, here it is if a man comes up, is everybody going to run and hide? You don't know what this man is going to do? Somebody is going to have to sacrifice something to find out man. You don't know if the man is going to go beserk or not. I just happened to be caught and I was caught out there and you know, I had to react because I'm caught up in the open. Y'all. Everybody else is going to their office. And when a guy opens a door, he sees me, so what am I supposed to do go turn around and run? No. And the man gotta a shotgun? No, no, no, no, man. Hey. So I walked towards him that 01:43:00was the most memorable thing that I can remember working with the Vets Center. That one thing. Mm hmm.

SPRAGUE: How do you spend your Veteran's Day?

SIMS: Well, lately, well, last year I spent some time just contemplating. Generally on Veterans Day. I go to the cemetery, just pay my respects or I do something around veterans to pay my respects. If I don't do anything but shine my shoes, put on my coat to take a flower out to the grave put on a grave. There is a Civil War grave out the War Memorial. I mean, not the War Memorial, out at the VA, he's a black soldier.


SPRAGUE: What's his name?

SIMS: I forgot his name. But a couple of times I've been out there and looking him again.

SPRAGUE: You maintain any friendships with the guys you served with?

SIMS: Yeah, what was a couple, what was it? Last year, year before last, before the Covic, the guys were going to have a reunion and a the guy wrote me a letter and that was it. You know, we knew that was wasn't going to come off because he has said something about being cancelled 'til we get back together. But no, yeah, we ever, I have a reunion with the with the Group 322nd Infantry group. 01:45:00They write me, they got my address, they write me, let me know when they are going to have one and uh. I'll attend. I'll attend. I make way to go to, you know, to make sure I go down and see them, guys, 'cause there ain't that many of them left you know. And you know how that go man. Can't remember no names and you got to be around the [inaudible]. [Laughs] Listen to 'em, to bring you all back up all of us are in our 70s now man, 80s, you know? So yeah. So yeah.

SPRAGUE: Wah, with the experience and what's happened in Afghanistan recently and the withdrawal. What what are your thoughts about what those veterans are going through?

SIMS: Well, they're going to need a lot of counseling and definitely so I don't know, Initially, hopefully, they'll get the right type of individuals around 'em 01:46:00to give them the right type of counseling. I know they're going to they won't be a lot of guys with PTSD, especially with those roadside bombs and even that are really effective for a long time man. And losing a leg or limb, a bomb blowing up. That's bad because I recall that during Vietnam man and I spent about four hours on rock was going up a hill first got there. And one guy, the guys I was in it, somehow got off the trail man and "POW!" Saw here "boom" freeze 01:47:00everybody, freeze man, guy done stepped on a mine. You said, Oh, man, now I am by this rock right? I just had to get prepared by this rock this rock was about this big man. I say, "Oh man" I got it right on top of that rock and lay there man, I am goin' stay right here. I ain't moving place, OK? It took us about three hours, man. The first thing they got the guy off, they pulled him back. They couldn't find nothin' man. They took his shirt off and the was a little pin hole over his heart about that big man. I said, "Damn this what killed him. That's what killed him. One shrapnel went right thru his heart. You say, "Wow," they blew up, man, and you saw of all the things. One piece went right thru his 01:48:00eye. So he had to take the guy down. And it was almost nighttime man. And that's the thing. I got to get those it was getting to me. I said, now, here we going to we go to get down here now, you know, everybody come in. Coming off of that hill, I know the Viet Cong can see you coming across that rice paddy. 'Cause we there's a rice paddy like this, and then the hill. And we had we had to come across the rice paddy to go to the hill, and I said man that is a bad move there man. Why are we going over that? I say we got to go across this rice paddy I know they looking at us. I know they looking at us coming across the rice paddy. And we go up this hill is and sure enough. We get about a hundred yards up in there. The guy steps off the trail and stepped on that mine. And everybody freezes. So that means you've got to wait here until you know, you examine and find. Hey, everybody, back up the way he came, see what I am saying. So we come 01:49:00all the way down, like a single trail man carrying this guy's body. I said, Man, this is crazy. But yeah, that's what happened. That yeah, yeah. So little things like that. I mean, you you you never will forget it 'cause it droves in on you, one little slip. Never forgot that, dang gom. So so yeah, man. Any little thing can kill you. [Laughs] Any little thing can kill you.

SPRAGUE: So how do you think your life changed for serving in Vietnam and who do you think you'd be if you hadn't served in Vietnam?

SIMS: Uh, I don't know. I--I, you know, I yeah, I try to deal with the reality of it. I think Vietnam has made me a better person. Uh, it took me a while to 01:50:00see that because I was bitter for what it I thought they had did to me. You know, which I know they did to me, but you said you can't. Uh? Relinquish that to them like that. You to get past that, even in life, you got to get past certain hurdles like that. You can't hold those things man or it is goin' to hold you back. So you're goin' to have to do something different and. And the best way I found I was helping somebody else, get thru some of the problems of that they had. That made me feel better and help them so.

SPRAGUE: What motivated you to do this interview?


SIMS: Well, I thought it needed to be done because. To me, it's been over 50 years, man, and I've been holding some of this stuff here for a long time, too. But if it can help somebody else get it through extreme situations, so be it. That is a good thing.

SPRAGUE: Did we miss anything you'd like to cover?

SIMS: No, I don't think so. I'm glad to have been able to deal with that and this particular time, maybe someone will see this and dwell a little bit more within themselves to make themselves a little bit more better. Anything that's 01:52:00going to be good of anything you have to work on it, you know? So we, as human beings, have to work on ourselves every day. Even up to the end, I think, yeah, so that's where I'm at.

SPRAGUE: OK, then that concludes the interview. Thank you for your service, William.

SIMS: Okay, thank you.

[Break in interview]

SPRAGUE: OK, William, tell me about how you first found out about this, this project, the statue project here,

SIMS: Ahh, I was in at a Council on Veterans Programs meeting. The director of the museum was he approached me and ask asked me, I'm pretty sure, along with 01:53:00other guys to submit some photos of us being in Vietnam 'cause they were looking at choosing a figure to represent Vietnam. So I submitted some photographs and they chose me as an individual to represent the Wisconsin veterans.

SPRAGUE: And what can you tell us in particular about this statue or that you care to share?

SIMS: [Laughs] Yeah, this is one of the things that I liked about the statue was this is a phosphorus grenade and supposedly when you ran into the enemy. And if you got somewhat in front of the group, you're supposed to light that phosphorus 01:54:00grenade I never had to use it. And I, was proud of that. So that's the that's the initial thing with that grenade. But another incident happend to me while walking through the jungle, a vine pulled the grenade. One of these grenades unloosened and fell off, and I was walking around with the pin, which is dangerous. And when I when I finally discovered that the bottom was gone, it was one of the my fellow paratroopers that noticed "Sims, you don't be careful, you goin' blow yourself up walking around with that grenade open like that." And that's when I noticed that at the bottom of the grenade had come off some type 01:55:00away the vine had unscrewed it. I don't know how it going, but yeah, there's a lot of different things that can hurt you while you're in a war. You got to be aware.

SPRAGUE: What else sticks out to you on this note and the figurine there?

SIMS: You're a ammo pouches that sticks out on me. I always made sure I had a couple of those definitely 'cause I didn't want to get caught out there, without having enough ammo. But everything else seams the picture, uhh, how I did carry myself. Mmhmmm.The rucksack and everything else. Water bag, water bottles. Yeah, 01:56:00that's what I would of had.

SPRAGUE: So what else can you tell me about the sunglasses up there?

SIMS: Uh, I had those were the sunglasses, summer sunglasses. That I had to wear as it relates to being the point man for a number of months because I didn't have regular glasses, so maybe that was why I had a sour look too. [Laughs] But yeah that, it depicts me to a T though how I felt about it. And of course, my trusty M60--M16. Uh, yeah, that was our weapon of the day. Easy to clean. And it could jam to.

SPRAGUE: What uhhh, when you first saw this, what was your reaction?


SIMS: Ahhh, somewhat astounded about how accurate it sort of portrayed me in a sense you even up to the way I frowned, you know, we're going out across. I felt that if the enemy looked up and seen somebody coming across there. With some glasses and frowning like I was frowning they would be a little bit more concerned. Especially I guy walking across these fields with some sunglasses on, yeah, that yeah, it depicts me the way I felt was at that time, yeah.

SPRAGUE: Any other thoughts on the statue?


SIMS: Well, after a while, we had got rid of the helmets and was wearing baseball caps. So that's that was one of the things, but we wore those, I guess we wore those about three or four months.

SPRAGUE: What the steel pots?

SIMS: The steel pots, yeah.

SPRAGUE: Why did you take just out of curiosity, why did you take the steel points off?

SIMS: Well, I think the steel pots were a little bit more cumbersome, as far as going thru the jungle. You know, you'd get caught up in vines and all that. So they switched us around to caps. Yeah.

SPRAGUE: Anything else?

SIMS: No, but it's good to see, uh. And then I'm proud because it represents the soldiers during that particular time that were from Wisconsin. I just happened 01:59:00to be one.

SPRAGUE: OK. And that note, that ends our conversation about the William Sims statue at the War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

[Interview Ends]