The John H. Simmons Memorial Dinner is scheduled Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. in the Bradley High School cafeteria. For tickets and information, call the Bradley County Veterans Service Office at 423-618-2141.
Local businessman Jeff Morelock and Simmons grew up together. The two were lifelong friends until Simmons passed away July 27, 2009 at 63 years of age.
“John and I knew each other, I guess, from the time we were born until he died last year,” Morelock said. “He was my best friend, my lifelong friend and I miss him.”
Simmons was born and raised in Bradley County. He attended Arnold School, graduated from Bradley High School and attended Tennessee Wesleyan College. After college, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving from 1966 to 1970. He was assigned to Bethesda Naval Hospital and also trained with Marines in California before being deployed to Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 with the 1st Marine Division Combat Unit.
Morelock said the former Navy corpsman believed in and lived for working to improve the lives of veterans. All of the posthumous recognition bestowed upon him is well deserved, Morelock added.
“He was very dedicated to the work of veterans in Bradley County, across the state and across the nation,” Morelock said. “He was very dedicated to it. He just loved doing it. It was his hobby. He liked helping. He helped a lot of individual veterans and organizations — but on a personal level, he was my best friend.”
After his retirement from Hardwick Clothes in 2001, Simmons made advocating on behalf of veterans his sole purpose in life. He talked to people locally and made many trips to Nashville and Washington, D.C., in spite of being classified 100 percent disabled and in constant pain.
The legacy of helping former military men and women has continued through Simmons’ family. His widow, Sharon, and son, Grant Pirkle, recently donated a 15-passenger bus to the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America. The VFW will hold title to the bus, but all organizations have equal access to it for group transportation.
The family also donated $5,000 collected from the Boogie at the Barn fundraiser in May.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said, “John Simmons was a giving person especially when it came to his fellow veterans. Now his family continues to remember his legacy by supporting our proposed veterans home. Today’s event is a fitting tribute to a man who was often called a veteran’s veteran.”
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said Simmons stood steadfast and strong in support of veterans.
“He worked hard to make sure that Veterans in Bradley County know how deeply we appreciate the sacrifices they made to keep our country free,” Davis said. “How fitting that his family would honor his memory with a bus to be used by the local veterans organizations as well as a generous gift to the proposed Bradley County Veterans Home.”
The monetary gift will help pay for programs at the proposed Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home that is planned to be built on a 27-acre site at 1940 Westland Drive. The property was donated by Steve Willams, Thomas Williams and Robert Wright.