Louisville's Unsung Hero - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Louisville's Unsung Hero

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Captain James P. Simons was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam from June of 1966 to June of 1967. Captain James P. Simons was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam from June of 1966 to June of 1967.
James Simons with his wife Kay James Simons with his wife Kay
Simon's exploits earned him almost every medal for service and bravery, including three Purple Hearts. Simon's exploits earned him almost every medal for service and bravery, including three Purple Hearts.
Frank Martinez Frank Martinez

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - This Fourth of July weekend we'll celebrate our nation's independence and the people who continue fighting to secure it for us. One of those people was Louisville's Captain James "Jim" Simons, a distinguished and decorated helicopter pilot in vietnam. Now Captain Simons is trying to win one last battle, before he loses another.

Simons was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam from June of 1966 to June of 1967. He did a lot in that one year as a scout pilot flying a small chopper at tree top level to bring the enemy into view for U.S. Troops.

Simons averaged five hours of combat per day in a small HO-13 copter, just like the one seen in the TV series M.A.S.H. The copter was unarmed and he was always flying in harms way.

"Sometimes finding them meant they found me and shot me down," Simons explains.

That happened three different times to be exact. The last time Simons crashed he was hovering over a Viet Cong bunker drawing heavy machine gun fire away from dozens of American wounded who were trying to be evacuated. Simons and his co-pilot were looking the enemy right in the eye as they were throwing grenades into the enemy bunker, just three feet away. Then they were shot down.

"It's a crazy thing when you listen to it and you go what?" Frank Martinez, a Service Officer with Louisville's American Legion, described what Simons went through the last time he was shot down.

"Now you gotta remember, he's got a throttle, he's got a collector that he has to deal with back and forth (to fly the copter) and so, for him to take his hand off that and then toss grenades underneath his helicopter is quite a feat!"

"When we crashed," Simons explained,"the helicopter crashed and it rolled over in a rice patty. And getting out of it, we were not 50 yards from the Viet Cong so we got behind a rice patty dike until some helicopters came in and started firing at the Viet Cong right in front of us."

Simon's exploits earned him almost every medal for service and bravery, including three Purple Hearts.

"Anybody who has a purple heart from combat, I consider that to be the biggest medal. But I have a Distinguished Service Cross, which is next to the Medal of Honor, I have a Distinguished Flying Cross, which is just under it, I have a Bronze Star and I have three Purple Hearts and Air Medals," he said.

When asked what all of those medals mean to him, Simons said, "They mean my life. I should've been killed. I wasn't, so they remind me of how lucky I was in Vietnam."

Now Simons is bravely fighting another battle. A cancerous brain tumor that is considered by doctors to be terminal. Due to the tumor's location, near the part of the brain that controls one's emotions, it strongly affects Simons reactions to certain situations making him very emotional at times.

Simons' wife, Kay, says he's fighting this battle just as bravely as he fought the Vietcong.

"The fight that he's going through now we go through everyday and take each day and enjoy each day and try not to dwell on the negative aspects of what he's going through, because in many ways, his bravery that he showed in Vietnam all those years ago, he is still very much continuing that bravery through his latest struggle."

Frank Martinez didn't realize that Simons had been decorated so extensively during the Vietnam War until recently. Simons never really talked about it much, until he attended more formal Purple Heart events and wore his uniform, complete with all medals.

"Jim has a certain quality about him that, he's the unsung hero, he's the guy that did a lot of things and didn't need to talk to anybody about it."

Last Summer the 95th National Convention of the American Legion passed a resolution, written by Martinez, to begin the long task of honoring Simons with the military's top medal. The Medal of Honor. Now it's a race against time.

"At this point in time based on Jim's condition and everything, somewhere, somehow, it needs to get accelerated."

With Martinez's work to gather all needed information and paperwork, and sending all of that tremendous amount of information to Kentucky's Representatives and Senators, the fight is now in the hands of Congress to approve the Medal of Honor for Jim Simons.

We spoke with representatives of both Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Yarmuth, both say they are now working with the Department of Defense to move this fight forward for Jim. But it still could take a few years for it to happen.

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