Brig. Gen. Edwin Howard Simmons; 'Collective Memory' of Marine Corps

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Edwin Howard Simmons, 85, a brigadier general who wrote a well-received military history and was considered the memory of the Marine Corps, died of heart ailments May 5 at his Alexandria home.

Gen. Simmons, the director emeritus of Marine Corps History and Museums, served in the Marines for 53 years: 36 in uniform and 17 as a civilian. He was a veteran of three wars, a prolific writer and skilled enough in bureaucratic battles to create a single command from the scattered records, history and museums units.

He fought on Guam during World War II, participated in the Inchon landing and the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea and served two tours in Vietnam.

Because of his longevity and reputation, newly promoted generals often sought him out for consultation, said Charles Melson, chief historian of the Marine Corps. Melson said Gen. Simmons was respected as the "collective memory" of the service, someone who experienced a significant portion of its history and researched the rest.

"He wasn't the broken-nose, crew-cut, vaguely profane marine," Melson said. "It's a hackneyed phrase, but he was an officer and a gentleman."

Gen. Simmons's most significant work, "The United States Marines: A History" (1974), is a standard reference text and remains in print in its fourth edition. He also was editor in chief and principal contributor to a large-format illustrated history, "The Marines" (1987); a pamphlet history, "Over the Seawall: U.S. Marines at Inchon" (2000); and a book written for the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, "Frozen Chosin: U.S. Marines at the Changjin Reservoir" (2002).

He also wrote a novel, "Dog Company Six" (2001), which Leatherneck magazine called "the best autobiographical novel to come out of the Korean War."

The year before, in a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial marking the 50th anniversary of the Chosin Reservoir campaign, Gen. Simmons addressed those who insist on calling the Korean War forgotten.

"Forgotten by whom? Certainly not by those who were there," Gen. Simmons said. As a 29-year-old major, he had commanded a weapons company and assisted in the defense of Hagaru-ri at the southern tip of the reservoir. He recalled the enormous Nov. 27, 1950, Chinese attack in sub-zero temperatures on the 1st Marine Division and the Army's 31st Regimental Combat Team, which were positioned around the reservoir.

"We remember the night of the 27th. . . . We remember the terrible fate of the 31st RCT. . . . We remember the rows of grotesquely frozen corpses. . . . We remember the breakout from Hagaru-ri. . . . We remember the rescue of 100,000 refugees. . . .

"There's a great deal to remember," Gen. Simmons concluded. "It's not the forgotten war, for us."

He was born in Paulsboro, N.J., graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He accepted a commission as a Marine second lieutenant in 1942 and served in the Pacific theater, fighting on Guam and later serving in Okinawa, Japan and China.

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