By the Major Brent Taylor Foundation
The life and legacy of Serge Benson Simmons
Serge was posthumously awarded the bronze star medal for distinguished service in combat operations on July 26, 1969.
BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY
Serge Benson Simmons was dead set on joining the armed forces for as long as his wife, Jane Renstrom Stevenson, knew him. They were high school sweethearts from Weber High School. Serge got his middle name from his mother’s side of the family, who was a Benson from the Ezra Taft Benson line. Ezra went on to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In addition, he had a colonel for an uncle, and another was an attorney in Washington, D.C. As a result, patriotism was in his blood. Jane supported his wishes to join the Marine Corps, but she encouraged him to earn his college degree first. That way, he would be able join as an officer. So, they got married right after high school and enrolled in college.
Serge Simmons enlisted with the Marine Corps in April of 1967. By that time, both Serge and Jane had received their college degrees and had three children: Wendy Johnson, Tim Simmons, and the late Chantile Jones. Jane studied English, and Serge studied geography and geology. After Boot Camp, he attended Officer Candidate School in Quantico, VA. He had been employed as a machinist at Hill Air Force Base and had worked at Hiland Dairy. Officer school was expedited from six months to five months. According to Jane, that was a result of the Marine Corps’ desperation for officers. With the war in Vietnam raging, many of the drafted infantry and marines needed officers to lead them. Then, Serge’s superiors told him he showed a lot of promise. They told him they would finance a master’s degree if he wanted to pursue it.
He deployed to Vietnam on May 10, 1969, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Marines Division. Serge and his fellow Marines were charged with the security of the city of DaNang and its heavily populated area. Small detachments of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong regulars and guerrillas continued to move and operate throughout the area of operations. They persisted in rocket, mortar, and ground assault against allied installations and population centers. They were also effective in planting mines and boobytraps and maintaining an unrelenting campaign of terrorism against the civilian population.
On the morning of Nov 3rd, Serge was with his platoon on patrol in Quang Nam Province. Their typical radio man of the patrol took leave that day. His replacement stepped on an enemy mine, and Serge was mortally wounded by the resulting explosion. He later died on the U.S.S. Sanctuary while receiving medical treatment. Just five years ago, the original radio man called Jane personally to apologize for her husband’s death. All these years he’d blamed himself and wanted to contact her. However, his superiors discouraged any communication with Serge’s widow. When he finally called, Jane insisted her husband’s death wasn’t his fault. “It’s just life,” she told him on the call.
Serge forewarned his wife before he deployed. He was sure he would be seriously wounded or killed. “But don’t worry because I’ll be okay,” he told his wife. Instead, he was determined he was doing the right thing. If he didn’t fight communism abroad, he was convinced he would be fighting it in the United States. Serge was posthumously awarded the bronze star medal for distinguished service in combat operations on July 26, 1969. Afterwards, his children and wife remained close to his parents. They honor him every chance they get.