Memorial Day — An orphan's Medal of Honor
By Mark Alexander
In recent weeks, I have written about the loss of two friends, T/Sgt. Charles Coolidge and Lt. Col. Chuck Hagemeister. They were members of, and strong advocates for, The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center here in Chattanooga — two humble men who saved the lives of many others on WWII and Vietnam battlefields.
It was with gratitude that I followed up those profiles with the welcome news that a 94-year-old Georgia native, Col. Ralph Puckett, was finally recognized for his service with a long-overdue Medal of Honor. He risked his life protecting his men in Korea.
We honor these men for the lives they saved on battlefields, and they will forever be held in high esteem among the ranks of our nation's most distinguished veterans. The same is true for generations of Americans who have served our nation with honor and dignity, including those in my father's Dartmouth class of '44, ALL of whom departed to serve in World War II — and many of whom never returned.
While we honor T/Sgt. Coolidge, Lt. Col. Hagemeister, and Col. Puckett, Memorial Day, as detailed in our Memorial Day tribute page, is reserved to honor those who have given their lives in the uniformed services of our nation — those who died in combat defending Liberty in accordance with their sacred oaths "to Support and Defend" our Constitution.
Regarding the three men aforementioned, I noted that the word "hero" is grossly overused today, but as it relates to Medal of Honor recipients, it is invariably understated.
And so it is with S/Sgt. Clifford Chester Sims, who was killed in action defending his fellow soldiers in Vietnam.
Sims began life as Clifford Pittman, according to a 2015 profile. He was orphaned at a young age. Though his stepfather's family took him in, they couldn't care for him. So he left their house and lived in an abandoned bus near Panama City, Florida, where he attended a nearby school. Clifford survived on the kindness of strangers.
According to his widow, Mary Sims-Parker, "We didn't call it 'homeless' then, but he was homeless before they came up with the term. He has a long story."
At age 13, Clifford was adopted by James and Irene Sims, who provided him his first stable home. He and Mary, his high school sweetheart, were married in December of 1961, soon after he enlisted in the Army. He trained at Fort Jackson, SC, and the Airborne School at Fort Benning, GA, and then the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, before going to Ft. Campbell, TN, where he would ship out to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division's Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry "Raiders" — the "bastard company."
It was a long road from tragedy to triumph, that ended in Hue, Vietnam, on 21 February, 1968. As his citation notes:
Of her impression of the Medal of Honor, Mary Sims-Parker said: "The first time I ever saw a picture of someone wearing the Medal of Honor, I was so in awe. I just looked and looked at it. It was just so amazing to see someone alive wearing one. I do treasure it so much."
She added, "When I found out how [Clifford died], it didn't surprise me."
For his genuine heroics, S/Sgt. Clifford Chester Sims was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on 02 December 1969. Receiving it in his name, Mary keeps it in a shadow box on the wall in her modest home in Hopkinsville, KY.
Thank you, Clifford and Mary Sims.
Too many Americans, oblivious to the service and sacrifice of others on their behalf, will "celebrate" Memorial Day as any other holiday. Too many commercial vendors will use the day to promote sales.
But Memorial Day is not for sale. More than 1.3 million American Patriots have already paid the full price in combat, and an additional 1.4 million have been wounded. These numbers, of course, offer no reckoning of the inestimable value of their service or the sacrifices borne by their families.
In 1776, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail of the cost of defending Liberty: "I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means."
Indeed, and that cost continues to be borne today by our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving around the world.
Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.