Who is Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson? Conflicting accounts of a man at the center of the Aberdeen storm

November 29, 1996|By Jay Apperson and Scott Shane | Jay Apperson and Scott Shane,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Tom Bowman, JoAnna Daemmrich and Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

He was the high school football star from small-town South Carolina who joined the Army and learned to repair tanks. He became a strapping soldier whose crisply pressed uniform reflected ambition and a no-nonsense attitude -- traits he parlayed into a job as a drill sergeant.

Now, 12 years into a military career that has included assignments in Germany, Korea and Somalia, Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson is the human ground zero of the unfolding Army sexual misconduct scandal. He faces a chilling array of charges, including nine alleged rapes of three women and counts of sodomy, assault, threats and fraternization. In all, the charges involve eight female recruits under his care at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Simpson, 31, is a father of two, married to an active-duty Army woman posted in Virginia, and his military record includes 19 awards and decorations. His outgoing manner and professional bearing have impressed many colleagues.

But his past, now certain to be scrutinized by investigators, also includes accusations of favoritism toward female subordinates, a troubled relationship with the mother of his daughter, and six months' probation for fleeing Texas police.

Since the Army announced Nov. 7 its probe of alleged misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, investigators have identified 13 female soldiers who say they were raped, as well as 21 others making lesser allegations ranging from indecent assault to fraternization, a memo obtained by The Sun says.

The Army, which has expanded its investigation to other bases, has said 20 male Aberdeen drill sergeants and other soldiers are under investigation, including three who face courts-martial. Of those three, only Simpson is incarcerated, sitting in the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., his perfectly creased uniform exchanged for a prison jumpsuit.

Simpson's defenders question whether the charges result from the Army's rush to show it is serious about confronting a long-simmering problem of sexual abuse in the ranks. They emphasize that no accusation has been proven.

"Some people in Washington have forgotten about something called a trial," says his lawyer, Capt. Edward W. Brady. "We don't believe that playing it on TV and the newspapers is how it's done."

Drill Sgt. Phillip Cook finds it hard to believe that the man he admires stands accused of such acts. To Cook, stationed at Aberdeen for the past 14 months, the 6-foot-4-inch Simpson is the friend he jokingly calls "Tiny."

"He was always taking care of his soldiers," says Cook. "I never saw him do anything out of line.

"I'm not saying he didn't have sex with the women. I'm just saying I don't think it was rape."

Cook had the grim duty of driving his friend to Quantico -- a trip on which Simpson spoke little about the charges, preferring to sleep. "That's like locking up your brother or your sister," says Cook, who has been in the Army 12 years.

'Like a father'

A 20-year-old female soldier who lived in the same barracks as Simpson for several months said he was always professional. Once, she recalls, as she was heading to "The Strip," the collection of bars and motels that line U.S. 40, he warned her not to run afoul of Army rules banning social or sexual relationships with trainees.

"He was like a father to me," she says. "He never made any advances, never."

But another trainee, also 20, found Simpson intimidating, calling her to him at lunch and berating her for laughing and chatting with friends. Her roommate found Simpson attractive and regularly visited him -- behavior that led to gossip about improper relationships, says the woman, who asked not to be named.

"It was one big soap opera there," the trainee says of her experience at the Edgewood campus of the proving ground. "Nothing but who was sleeping with who, sexual harassment and all that." Trainees and their superiors regularly slipped away to a walkway along the Gunpowder River to drink, kiss or have sex, she adds.

'An outstanding young man'

Simpson grew up in the hamlet of Richburg, S.C., the third of five children of O'Neal Simpson, a textile worker who died when Delmar was 7, and Edna Simpson, a cook and seamstress.

Relatives and teachers remember Delmar as a cheerful young man who distinguished himself in athletics, a defensive lineman who led the Lewisville Lions football team to a county high school championship. He also fathered a boy, who is now 14 and lives with Simpson's mother.

"He was an outstanding young man, polite, respectful," recalls Jimmy Wallace, who coached Simpson in football. "I don't ever remember him getting in trouble. Very well-mannered young man -- always 'yes, sir, no, sir.' "

After graduating from Lewisville High in 1983, Simpson enlisted and trained in artillery repair at Aberdeen before shipping out for Germany. In 1988, he was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, where he eventually was promoted to a supervisory role, making platoon sergeant in the 602nd Maintenance Company in 1992.

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