NATCHITOCHES – Continuing a tradition of honoring those who serve in the U.S. military during athletic events, Northwestern State University recognized Dr. Lisso Simmons for service to country and community during Saturday’s basketball double header in Prather Coliseum.
At the height of World War II, Simmons’ training as a Naval Air Force Radar Officer committed him to 10 years in the military. He served on active duty from 1942 to 1946 and completed his military commitment in an inactive status. As a Radar Officer with the rank of LT(JG) (Lieutenant, Junior Grade), Simmons served aboard aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater where it was his duty to direct U.S. aircraft at night.
When asked to recount his experience, he said, “War is hell. I prefer to remember the good times.”
Simmons trained at Nero Beach, Florida, and received orders to report to the USS Belleau Wood. He flew into Hawaii on a Navy plane and after a week found himself on a small group of islands just taken by the U.S. There he boarded a merchant ship to proceed to the Belleau Wood.
“All wartime ships had tall iron pipes on which a cable was shot from one ship to another to make personnel and cargo transfers. I was surprised to find myself on some sort of a basket chair contraption, dangling on the cable, between the two ships. They swayed and rocked. Before I knew it, the cable went slack, and I was dunked in the ocean. I climbed aboard the Belleau Wood and joined the war soaking wet, to include all of the gear in the pack on my back.”
Later he returned to Vero Beach for training.
“There were about 10 WAVES [US Naval Reserve – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service] there and everyone vied for their attention,” he recalled. “We used separate radio call signs to communicate between the pilots and ground crew.
“One evening an Admiral from Jacksonville was visiting the base. Our Skipper wanted to demonstrate how we located and directed pilots using radar. As the Radar Officer, I was asked to direct a pilot, who was my friend, in a target plane. At one point in the procedure, I instructed him to ‘Sing for a fix!’ This meant, start a countdown of 10 to 1 so we can triangulate your position. Wanting to impress the WAVES, my friend began to ‘sing’ for a fix by belting out an advertising jingle for Super Suds detergent. The Skipper, visibly embarrassed in front of the Admiral, radioed sternly, ‘Hello crackpot! Sing for a fix!’ My friend replied, ‘Roger dodger, you old codger!’ then almost blew the roof off as he buzzed the tower. Later, he told me if he figured that if he was going to be in trouble, he might as well be in real trouble. You bet he was – he was grounded for 6 weeks!”
“Back out on the Belleau Wood, we were given beer and taken ashore in landing crafts to enjoy it. We could carry beer on the ship, we just couldn’t drink it,” Simmons remembered. “I didn’t drink beer and was on Shore Patrol, so I gave my beer away. Those who drank guzzled the beer while it was still cold. We then had to make our way back onto the landing crafts to return to the ship. Once at the ship, the only way to climb aboard was to literally climb aboard using rope ladders and cargo netting attached to the side of the ship. We soon realized that most of the men were not going to make the climb, so we piled them in cargo netting and hoisted them aboard as fish caught fresh for dinner.
“I’m not sure how we got away with so much insubordination!” he laughed.
In 1946, Simmons returned home and reenrolled at Northwestern State to finish his studies. There, he met Nadine Smith on her first day of school. They were married four days after she graduated in 1950. They had been married 56 years when she passed away in 2006. They have five children, and he smiles as he thinks of their grandchildren.
Simmons completed his Ed.D. in education at NSU in 1947 and began his career as a teacher in Natchitoches Parish schools. He served as a principal in Webster Parish before spending 14 years as a professor at Northwestern State. Dr. Simmons then spent eight years as Dean of the College of Education at Southeastern Louisiana University. He retired after one year as Dean of the School of Education at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. In 2000, Simmons was inducted in the NSU Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development Hall of Distinguished Educators.