History in Focus: John H. Simpson — returning to the Philippines
December 13, 2015
At the close of 1944 it was clear the allies had the upper hand in the Pacific Theater, but much heavy lifting still had to be done. John H. Simpson, of Craig, was part of that heavy lifting as a member of the 148th regiment of the 37th Division in the effort to reclaim the Philippine Islands. In the strange twists of war as John's regiment battled in the streets of Manila toward Bilibid Prison, another man from Craig, John Wagner — a POW since 1942 — waged his lonely battle of survival, missing liberation by Simpson's regiment's by a mere 20 days. (See Oct. 12, History in Focus.)
Born in 1913 in Rolla, Kansas, John Simpson came to Craig with his family in 1930. His family owned property and ranched just south of Craig along the Yampa River. Today, all of us know and enjoy this area now known as Loudy-Simpson Park.
Well out of high school before the outbreak of World War II, John was living and working in Craig when he met and married Miss Marie Baker in 1935. Soon a son, Joe, was born in 1936. But by 1941, difficulties in their marriage surfaced. The Oct. 1 edition of the Craig Empire Courier ran a notification that Marie Simpson had filed for divorce from John.
World War II then intervened and dragged John into its torrents. Called into duty in March of 1944 he left his young son and wife for Camp Roberts in California. The newly minted Private First Class was shipped to the South Pacific, attached to the 148th regiment, and destined to help fulfill General Douglas MacArthur's famous promise to return and retake the Philippines.
On Jan. 9, 1945, the massive invasion began. John was one of 175,000 soldiers that came ashore on the beaches of Lingayen Gulf. He and the 148th regiment swiftly moved south along the plains of Luzon towards the coveted capital, Manila. According to the Craig Empire Courier of May 9, 1945 John, "was among the first fighting troops to enter the Philippine capital." For that glory and honor Simpson was wounded twice and earned two purple hearts. As Simpson fought into the center of the city toward Bilibid, he and the rest of the 37th Division liberated Bilibid Prison. Sadly, they just missed Craig's John Wagner who died only 20 days earlier.
By the end of March, 1945 Manila was cleared of the enemy. However, the Japanese retreated to the remote mountain jungles, and the 37th followed in hot pursuit in an effort to mop up and clean out the island. It was at this time, so close to the end of the war, that John was killed in action on April 20. His son, Joe Simpson, and a young boy at the time, related to me in a short conversation what he remembered hearing about his dad's death. John was resting in a foxhole when a Japanese hand grenade landed nearby, exploded, and killed him.
Recommended Stories For You
On May 9, 1945 the Craig Empire Courier reported that his wife, Mrs. Marie Simpson received the difficult news of her husband's death. Today, John H. Simpson rests peacefully on the other side of the Pacific in the beautiful American Cemetery in Manila. Soon, the Museum of Northwest Colorado's World War II memorial will help bring Simpson's memory, distanced by 70 years and thousands of miles, a little closer to home.