John Simmons, 72, World War II veteran

April 10, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John Gordon Simmons Sr., a much-decorated World War II Navy gunner on the USS Yorktown who became the state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, died of cancer April 3 at Fort Howard Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Catonsville resident was 72.

Mr. Simmons, who had a long career as a mechanic at International Harvester Co., served for two years during his teens on the aircraft carrier known as the Fighting Lady of the Pacific as a gunner's mate and gun captain.

Known as Gordy, Mr. Simmons was born in Baltimore and grew up in Walbrook. He attended St. Edward's Roman Catholic parochial school and cut his high school education short to enlist in the Navy the day after his 17th birthday.

"We served all throughout the South Pacific, almost every invasion," Mr. Simmons said in 1985 about his experience on the Yorktown. "We were in the Philippines. We were at Okinawa. We were in eight major combats on that ship."

Mr. Simmons manned an anti-aircraft gun that fired four 40 mm cannons in sequence.

"The worst was off Okinawa. We were attacked by kamikazes. The [USS] Franklin got hit by kamikazes. I saw her get hit. We were hit by an armor-piercing bomb," said Mr. Simmons. "I stayed on the [firing] mount almost two months. Sleep 10 minutes, then go back on attack again. I gave orders to fire."

For his bravery, Mr. Simmons was awarded five battle stars, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and a Presidential Citation. He was discharged at age 20 and returned to Baltimore, where he became a maintenance mechanic at International Harvester Co. He stayed with the company for more than 40 years.

Mr. Simmons was elected state commander of the VFW, serving in 1980 and 1981. He was a life member of the Lt. Peter Zouck VFW Post 521 in Owings Mills and a member of the Dewey Lowman American Legion Post 109 and the state honor guard.

In 1949, he married Eleanor A. Fink, who survives him. In retirement, he enjoyed fishing and crabbing on the Eastern Shore.

Private funeral services were held Thursday at Baltimore National Cemetery.

He is also survived by four sons, John G. Simmons Jr. of Sherwood, Larry C. Simmons of Catonsville, Michael C. Simmons of Mount Airy and Jeffrey P. Simmons of Catonsville; a sister, Margaret Walsh of Catonsville; and six grandchildren.

Virginia H. Gray, 82, homemaker and volunteer

Virginia H. Gray, a homemaker and volunteer, died Tuesday of cardiac arrest at Howard County General Hospital. She was 82.

Mrs. Gray, a lifelong resident of Sunderland in Calvert County, had lived for several months at the home of her son, C. Vernon Gray, chairman of the Howard County Council. Mrs. Gray had volunteered at the N. M. Carroll Home and was active at Mount Hope United Methodist Church, where she had been a member of many committees.

The former Virginia Holland was born and raised in Sunderland and was a graduate of Calvert County public schools. In 1934, she married Major Gray, who survives her.

Services for Mrs. Gray will be held at noon Monday at Mount Hope United Methodist Church, Route 260 and Route 2 in Sunderland.

In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by another son, Robert Gray of Washington; a sister, Mary Moton of the Bronx, N.Y.; 38 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

Carolyn Bell Wilson, 76, church, hospital volunteer

Carolyn Bell Wilson, a church and hospital volunteer, died Thursday of cancer at her Guilford home. She was 76.

The former Carolyn Bell was a longtime Union Memorial Hospital volunteer, serving in its emergency room, blood bank, hospice program and canteen. She was also a deacon and volunteer at Second Presbyterian Church in Guilford.

In 1944, she married Dr. Theodore H. Wilson Jr., who was a Navy surgeon for 30 years before coming to Baltimore to become chief of surgery at Union Memorial and join the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He retired in 1985.

Mrs. Wilson was born in Winchester, Mass. She attended Bradford Junior College and Boston University, graduating with a degree in physical education. She has been a member of the Woman's Club of Roland Park.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 21 at Second Presbyterian Church, St. Paul Street and Stratford Road.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by two sons, Theodore H. Wilson III of Boston and Kenneth B. Wilson of Roanoke, Va.; two daughters, Nancy Wilson Wagner of Elizabethtown, N.Y., and Deborah S. Wilson of Salisbury, Mass.; a sister, Marjorie Dearth of Boston; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

William John Bandiere, 100, nightclub owner

William John Bandiere, a World War I combat veteran who later owned several Baltimore area nightclubs, died yesterday of prostate cancer at Fort Howard Medical Center. He was 100.

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