By Jean Schurman
It’s only appropriate that the Grand Marshal for this year’s Corvallis Memorial Day Parade is Al Simmons. He is not only a Navy veteran of World War II but is also a veteran of the Corvallis School marching band. The parade theme this year is “Corvallis High School Band: marching since 1940 (75 years).” Simmons was a member of the band that marched in 1940.
Simmons learned how to play the cornet in the late 1930’s when he was about 12 years old. He said there was a fellow named George Borchert that came around and taught youngsters how to play. The man really wasn’t affiliated with any schools but had taught students in different schools. They played at school functions, the county fair and other events. The students ranged from high school age down to grade school. Simmons said he remembered playing at football games, too. Simmons remembers playing “Taps” for Memorial Day events and for other veteran events.
Simmons was born and raised in Corvallis. He traces his roots back to the Chaffin family who settled here in the 1860’s. Although he grew up in the stucco house situated between the Corvallis school and the Ravalli Electric Co-op building on Eastside Highway, he said he spent the first five months of his life living in the Brooks Hotel.
Simmons said he always wanted to be a farmer, just as his parents were. However, the war got in the way of his plans. He was drafted into the Navy in 1943. After training, he was sent to the South Pacific where he remained until the end of the war.
Simmons arrived on Samar Island just after the battle Leyte Gulf that happened in the Philippine Sea after the battle of Guadalcanal. While he didn’t really see much fighting, he did see the aftermath of the battles. One spot that stood out to him was the Russell Islands. There were large palm tree plantations where the oil was harvested for soap and other products. What impressed him, with his farming background, was the organization of the palm trees.
During his early deployment on the islands, they almost ran out of food. When they went to get more food at the Navy base, Simmons said there were ships of every description. Simmons said he was a laborer and helped wherever he was needed, and did what needed to be done.
He returned to the valley after the war and tried his hand at farming. He took advantage of some programs and classes sponsored by the government. Eventually he went to work at Fairway Market and then Safeway where he worked for “12 or 13 years.” He did a stint at Hamilton Schools as a maintenance man. He finished out his working years at Ravalli Electric Cooperative where he again was a maintenance man.
Simmons is married to Wilma, who has three children and nine grandchildren. Simmons has five children and also has nine grandkids.
He said he was honored to be selected as this year’s grand marshal.