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WW II Merchant Marine remembers Pearl Harbor

Group shot of seated veteran and three others

WWII veteran Ernest Simas, center, poses with Lovell Federal Health Care Center Director Dr. Robert Buckley, left, his niece Debbie Simas Slusher, and Lovell FHCC Deputy Director Navy Captain Chad McKenzie, right. (Photo by Katie Yearley, Lovell FHCC Visual Information Specialist)

By Jayna Legg, Lovell FHCC Public Affairs Specialist
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
The planes flying overhead seemingly bombed the “wrong place,” is what then 19-year-old Ernest Simas remembers most about the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Simas and his friends were astounded when Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft strafed Kaneohe Naval Air Station first, before Pearl Harbor.

“The jets came in the wrong way,” said Simas, who today lives in Kenosha, Wis.

He also remembers seeing “lots of blood” and Army cots strewn about when he reported for work the next day at the naval station, where he and his stepfather worked with a moving company.

“I didn’t like it one bit,” he said about the chaos he witnessed that Monday morning.

It was so disturbing, Simas quit his job, headed for the union office of the Merchant Marines, and signed up the same day. Certificate of service in the Merchant Marines

Kenosha, Wis. resident Ernest Simas joined the Merchant Marines the day after he witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He began his service on the S.S. Lurline in the spring of 1942.

“I used to hang around the Merchant Marines union office,” Simas said. “They knew me. Some of my friends had already signed on.”

Simas told his story to Lovell FHCC leaders and staff members gathered to honor him the week of his 100th birthday Oct. 22, even tearing up a little with all the attention. Simas falls in a select group of Merchant Marines aligned with the Coast Guard during WWII and ultimately granted veteran status. But that didn’t happen until the 1980s, and Simas only recently signed up for VA benefits and had his first appointment at the Kenosha Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

“He really wanted his veteran ID card,” said his niece Debbie Simas Slusher. The ID card was the impetus for his first trip to Lovell FHCC. Then Slusher brought him to the main hospital Oct. 19 without letting on he was going to be recognized by Lovell FHCC Director Dr. Robert Buckley and Deputy Director Navy Capt. Chad McKenzie, who also is the commanding officer.

“Uncle is very proud of his ID card,” Slusher said. Old picture of an ocean liner

Merchant Marine Ernest Simas sailed from Pearl Harbor and served on the S.S. Lurline during World War II. The S.S. Lurline carried troops and supplies, frequently voyaging to Australia.

In the spring of 1942, Simas sailed on the S.S. Lurline, where he worked as an elevator operator. The S.S. Lurline was a luxury ocean liner that was drafted into wartime service to carry troops and supplies. The S.S. Lurline often voyaged to New Zealand and Australia during the war, and once transported Australian Prime Minister John Curtin to America to confer with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Simas’ Oct. 22, 1922, birth certificate was issued by the ‘Territory of Hawaii.” He said he was born in a sugar plantation camp, where most laborers had little or no schooling. “Those were Depression days. We received no education,” he said. “We had no teachers to teach us.”

After the war, Simas returned home to Hawaii and stayed in the Merchant Marines until 1957. He said they helped rebuild at Pearl Harbor and ready landing crafts and other equipment for the government to sell to auctioneers for scrap.

He then worked for the County and City of Honolulu in the Public Works Department, in the Sewer Division. He outlived his two wives. He had four children and today has 11 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

Simas was surprised to find among his many cards a certificate from Hawaii Governor David Ige recognizing his 100th birthday. Additionally, Hawaiian performer Henry Kapono made a special birthday video for Simas and gave the veteran a shoutout during a recent performance.

Dozens of cards flowed in after Slusher posted her uncle’s birthday on Facebook and said he would enjoy receiving 100 cards for his 100th.

“I just turned 100, and I became a celebrity,” Simas said. “It’s been terrific.”

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