Bits of Stone for Sunday, July 14
By Dean Stone | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
How Bill Proffitt earned turn with Gen. Simler in jet fighter
This is a true publicly untold story which is centered around two men, retired Realtor Bill Proffitt of Blount County and the late General George B. Simler.
Bill is a talented individual who grew up on a family farm, part of which has since been occupied by McGhee Tyson Airport and ALCOA plants. A tireless bicycle rider for enjoyment who earned his pilot’s license at age 72, he is also an excellent wood carver. His various carved song birds sell for high prices at auctions.
Col. George Brenner Simler IV was commander of the 355th Fighter Group at McGhee Tyson Air Force Base July 1956 - July 1957. In that role he was commander of the Air Force Base which existed at the airport from 1952-57, before it became an Air National Guard Base in 1958.
Simler coached Fatima youngsters
Well known in the community, Simler had played football at the University of Maryland and, assisted by a couple of equally prepared staff members, he was head coach of the football team at Our Lady of Fatima school for beginning grade students which adjoined the church.
Because of their coaches’ Air Force salary, it was frequently noted locally that the church school paid coaches more than local high schools. And they won too.
At that time the base was operating with F-86 jet fighters which had parachutes attached for use in slowing down the planes when landing.
Bill Proffitt heard the base had lost a parachute while in the air and guessed it likely would have fallen on the Proffitt farm. So, he approached Col. Simler and offered to find the parachute if he would trade it for a ride in a jet trainer. Simler agreed. Proffitt looked and found the parachute on the farm.
Simler kept his part of the deal. He took Bill for a 30-minute ride in a Lockheed T-33 jet trainer which has a second seat for the pilot being trained. Simler did a roll and let Bill do one also.
Simler had varied combat assignments
Time rolled on. Simler became athletic director at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and initiated the Commander-in-Chiefs Trophy, the annual football competition between the three U.S. service academies.
A native of Pennsylvania, he had entered the University of Maryland in 1940 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1942. He returned in 1946 as the first professor of air science and tactics at the university. He later enrolled as a student, completing his college work and graduating in 1948. He graduated from the National War College in 1961.
Simler had served two combat tours in the European Theater of Operations in World War II. In July 1944, on his second tour, he was shot down but evaded capture and returned to Allied lines in September 1944.
He flew many combat missions
Following an assignment as commander of a tactical fighter wing in Japan, he headed the Tactical Fighter Weapons Center in Nevada before going to Southeast Asia as director of operations of the Seventh Air Force. There he flew combat missions in every tactical strike aircraft assigned to the Seventh Air Force.
From Southeast Asia, Simler was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force where he became director of operations in 1967. In July 1969, he was named vice commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and on Sept. 12, 1970.
Lt. Gen. Simler became Commander of Air Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. He was chosen to become Commander of the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., in late September 1972 and be promoted to the rank of full (four) star general.
Crash, death delayed promotion
Simler and his aide were killed in the crash of a T-38 Talon jet trainer on takeoff at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 9 , 1972. He was posthumously promoted to the grade of general, effective Aug. 16, 1972.
Obviously, he didn’t just fill his military grade or successfully coach young football players. His military decorations include Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with 11 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart and the Vietnam Air Gallantry Cross.
It would be interesting to receive a note through U.S. postal service mail with contact information from any of his football players of Lady of Fatima days who still reside here.
Mimosa tree was welcome Blount newcomer in WWII
A Daily Times story earlier this week told of the likes and dislikes concerning the many mimosa trees growing and blooming in the Blount area.
The rest of the story: The mimosa tree came to Blount County as a treasured and invited guest during World War II. Several older residents have called about its beginning here.
As I recall, D. W. Proffitt, who founded Proffitt’s Department Store in 1919, saw mimosa trees in bloom when he was visiting in western North Carolina and was duly impressed.
Nothing like mimosa here
There was nothing like it in East Tennessee and he envisioned how nice it would be to make a mimosa tree available for everyone’s yard.
Those who knew D. W. were well aware that he was a friend of mankind, always looking to be of help to others.
He served on the draft board and as chairman of the Blount County Chapter of the American Red Cross during World War II, positions in which he was able to obtain warranted help to those in military service in emergencies. So, he was indeed a friend of those of us in service.
He conceived the idea of Proffitt’s Department Store giving a mimosa tree to the family of every Blount County person in service.
And he did. My family received one.
Subdivision is named for tree
A subdivision on Alcoa Highway, just north of McGhee Tyson Airport, was named Mimosa Heights.
So, whether or not we enjoy the beautiful blooms of the mimosa tree and its rapid spread, it came to Blount County as an invited and welcome guest as a gift from a dedicated community leader, D. W. Proffitt.
Dean Stone is editor of The Times.