James Young Simpson


James Young Simpson, Jr. was born March 28, 1896 in Kansas City, Kansas. James was the only son of Dr. James Young Simpson, Sr. and Mrs. Leonora Edith (Litchfield) Simpson, and was the second of their children. His older sister Eleanor was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1894, and his younger sister Dorothy was born in 1903 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Information shown in the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Census.)

James was a direct descendant of John Williams, who was the Lt. col. of a battalion of Minutemen, and a member of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina in 1775, and Col. of the 9th Continental Regiment of North Carolina in 1776. (Biography and Service Record of James Young Simpson)

By 1900 the Simpson family had moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Dr. Simpson was the medical director of The Keely Institute, which was located at 716 W. 10th St. In 1915 The Keely Institute moved to the southwest corner of 31st St and Euclid Ave. In 1917 the name of the institution changed to the Southwest Sanatorium, and Dr. Simpson has assumed the title of Superintendent. (Kansas City, Missouri, City Directories, 1900-1920)

The family lived at numerous addresses just south of downtown Kansas City until 1908, when they moved permanently to the house at 3633 Charlotte St. in Hyde Park. (Kansas City, Missouri, City Directories, 1900-1920)

The early years of James’ education are not documented, but while the family was living at 3663 Charlotte, James attended Hyde Park School, located at 34th and Gilliam Rd. (Kansas City, Missouri School District) and Westport High School. (Biography and Service Record of James Young Simpson) James was a 1915 graduate of Westport high School, where he played basketball and ran track. (Kansas City, Missouri School District)

In the fall of 1915, James entered the University of Missouri. He was a student of the School of Engineering. (Missouri University, n.d.) During his freshman year he was a pledge in Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, and he was a promising pitcher and first baseman on the freshman baseball team (Missouri University, n.d.) James was enrolled in the fall semester of the 1916-1917 school year and finished the term, but did not return for the spring semester. (Office of the University Registrar)

Before his enlistment, James has also worked in the credit department of the Kansas City Star. (World War Soldier Dead Memorial) (Unidentified newspaper clippings Dr. Simpson enclosed with his letter dated January 22, 1919 which was addressed to the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels.) His sister Eleanor also worked for the Star in the advertising department.

The United States declared war on Imperial Germany on April 6, 1917 and James volunteered for the Marines. The Marine Corps recruiting standards were so high that approximately 80% of applicants were turned away. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) On April 26, 1917, James was accepted for enlistment at the Kansas City, Missouri Receiving Station and shipped by train to the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina where he arrived on April 30, 1917. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

The first step for enlistees was to be put into quarantine upon arriving in South Carolina. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) James got out of quarantine on May 7, 1917 and officially signed his enlistment papers on that day. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book) Although Marines were told when they were recruited that they were being recruited only for the duration of the war, (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)) James, like all other enlistees, signed forms for an enlistment of 4 years. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book) James was issued Marine Corps Serial Number 85570. The physical that James took reports that James had blue eyes, light brown hair, a fair complexion, stood 5 feet 9 1/4 inches tall, and weighed 147 pounds. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

James was in boot camp from May 7, 1917 through July 22, 1917, training in Company B at Marine Barracks, Parris Island, South Carolina. As was the case during his entire career, he was rated Very Good to Excellent in the categories of Military efficiency, Obedience, and Sobriety; he had no offenses on his personal record, and he was rated as having excellent character. On July 6, 1917 James shot 219 at the range and qualified as Marksman. His rifle serial number was 417933. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

After completing boot camp, James was first assigned to 76th Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment at Quantico, Virginia on July 23, 1917. James was on furlough from August 4, 1917 through August 13, 1917. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book) Because he had volunteered for machine guns, (‘The Literary Digest’) James was sent to Utica, New York on September 1, 1917 and attached to Detachment D, which was being trained at the Savage Arms Company on the Lewis machine gun. While still in training at Utica, he was transferred on September 11, 1917 to 82nd Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. After completing his training on the Lewis machine gun at Utica, James was then sent back to Quantico on September 22, 1917, where he joined up the the 82nd Company. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

James and the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment embarked on the U.S.S. Von Steuben at League Island Navy yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 7:00 p.m. on October 24, 1917. The U.S.S. von Steuben left the continental limits of the United States October 25, 1917 and arrived at Brest, France on November 12, 1917. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembarked at Brest on November 19, 1917. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments and the 6th Machine Gun Battalion made up the 4th Marine Brigade which was newly formed in late 1917. The 4th Marine Brigade was made part of the fledgling 2nd U.S. Army Infantry Division. The Marines were forced to be part of an Army division since John J. Pershing refused to allow enough Marines in Europe for a division of their own. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) Upon the Marines being incorporated into an Army division, James Simpson was issues Army Serial Number 122,003. (Missouri Secretary of State Website)

The fact that Marines were even in Europe ran counter to the wishes of Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces. Pershing was forced to accept Marines after Commandant of the Marine Corps George Barnett used his considerable political influence in Washington to have the Secretary of War Newton D. Baker persuade President Wilson to order that a regiment of Marines be sent for duty with the first elements of the AEF going to France. This first contingent of Marines was the 5th Marine Regiment. While having to accept Marines in the AEF, Pershing for some time merely relegate them in small units to perform support functions in England and on the continent. The also underwent a considerable amount of training under French and British officers in the elements of ‘trench warfare’, as it was being conducted by the armies of those two countries. If Pershing had only one saving grace it was his determination throughout the war to abide by American policy as set by himself and President Wilson to not allow American units to be broken up piecemeal and turned over to French and British commanders to be incorporated into their unites as replacements for the losses of men that they had partly inflicted upon themselves by their use of poor tactics. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

By March 1918 it was felt that American troops were ready for some practical experience at various fronts throughout France. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) Realizing that he would be headed into action, James wrote his father a letter in observance of his father’s birthday in March. James wrote:

My Dear Father:

I just wanted to write you a letter on your birthday. I don’t know when I will be able to mail it, but will take the chance anyway. I want to thank you as your son. You have always been to me the best father a man could wish. I want to thank you for the gift of a clean, strong and vigorous body that can serve America in her need. Most of all I want to thank you for the long years of self denial that made my education possible, for the guidance and teaching that kept me straight through the days of my youth, for the counsel ever freely given when asked and for all the noble things in your example.

I surely hope that you will celebrate many more birthdays, and that I will be home for the next one. Also may the coming years bring to you wider fields of service and honor, strength to perform your work, and in the end peace, contentment, and quiet rest.

Your son, a soldier of the United States, salutes you, with love and devotion.

Jimmy (Unidentified newspaper clippings Dr. Simpson enclosed with his letter dated January 22, 1919 which was addressed to the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels.)

Upon being sent to the front, in the battle of the Toulon Sector, Verdum, the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines relieved French units on the night of March 18-19, 1918 at Mont-sous-les-Cotes. The remained in the lines thereunto relieved on March 28. Then on April 1, the 3/6 relieved another French unit in the subsection Eix-Moulainville-Chatillion. Until May 13, all three battalions in both the 5th and 6th Marine regiments had the opportunity to take their places in the front lines, with a patrol or raiding parties active every night. At this time, Pvt. Emil h. Gerhke of Simpson’s 82nd Co. became the first Marine combat fatality in France. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

The Marines then spent time with more training, refitting, and accepting replacements into their units. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

The 2nd Division was next engaged in the Aisle Defensive in the Chateau-Thierry sector, from May 31 through June 5, 1918. The German offensive was beginning to slow down when the 2nd Division was ordered forward from Chaumont-en-Vixen. In the course of the first twelve hours of their movement, the 2nd Division received four sets of conflicting orders from the French as to where they were to fight. The 2nd Division command finally convinced the French to countermand the last order that would have moved the 2nd away from the fighting, and the 2nd Division took up positions near Belleau Wood. At this time, 3/6 ended up in a position between Hill 142 and Lucy-le-Bocage. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

On June 2, 1918, the 3/6 was sent to reinforce the 2/5 at Les Mares Farm near Hill142. The 3/6 was relieved on June 5, 1918, for the purpose of going in reserve, and moved to a position just east of Lucy-le-Bocage. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

Orders were received at 14:05 on June 6 to begin an attack at 17:00. the objectives given the 3/6 in the first phase of the attach were to move down the Lucy-BoureschesRodad and into Belleau Woods, where the 3/6 was to take Hill 181, as well as taking Hill 138 west of Bouresches. In the second phase of the attack, the 3/6 was to join with the 3/5 in taking Bouresches and the railroad station north and east of that town. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

The plans for this attack proved to be poorly conceived and overly optimistic. The French contention that the woods were not occupied was never confirmed by any attempt of reconnaissance. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I)

The 3/6 advanced along the Lucy-Bouresches Road under heavy German fire until about 18:30, with Simpson’s 82nd Company in the lead. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) By this time, the platoon that Simpson was in was under the command of Sergeant George F. Frank because the platoon commander had been wounded. James and seven other Marines, Corporals Walter E. Lucas and Seth D. Abbott, and Privates Leroy Songer, Richard C. Hawkins, Roy E. Gile, George F. Ledger, and Elmer D. Taff, volunteered to attack two German machine guns that were inflicting serious casualties on the 3/6. Both machine guns were taken and held even through James was killed by enemy fire, corporal Lucas was also killed, and the rest were all seriously wounded. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

These events were described to Dr. Simpson in the letters of two Marines from the 82nd Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. An extract from the letter of Lieutenant C. D. Roberts stated:

“He was a mighty fine soldier and one of the bravest lads that took part in our fight in Belleau Woods. He was leading four of his comrades against a deadly machine gun position when he was killed. Another of his comrades was killed at the same time and all the rest wounded. It was one of the most heroic acts I have heard of in that encounter. This occurred about 6:30 p.m. June 6, 1918.” (From letter Dr. Simpson wrote to Major General George Barnett, Commandant dated December 20, 1918.)

Sergeant K. P. Spencer wrote two letters to Dr. Simpson. An extract of his first letter stated:

“The particulars of James’ death are as follows: on June 6th, orders came for this battalion to take machine gun hill which was being held by the Germans. At 5:00 p.m., the battalion formed in wave formation at the foot of the hill and soon the advance began. The machine gun fire of the enemy was terrify and very few of our men reached the top of the hill that day. A particularly strong machine gun nest was located on the right flank and it was at this point that your son displayed great courage and coolness. With a French Chauchat automatic rifle in his hands and four of his men following him, he charged this position and it was here that he fell – of the five who went after that gun not one returned. Truly, sir, you have reason to be proud of a son who went forward in the face of death and dined in an attempt to save his comrades.” (From letter Dr. Simpson wrote to Major General George Barnett, Commandant dated December 20, 1918.)

Sergeant Spencer wrote in his second letter:

“Your son has been cited for conspicuous bravery and courage displayed in the attack at Belleau Woods where he fell in June 6th, and in appreciation and recognition of such has been awarded the Croix de Guerre. Sir, you have lost your son, but the memory that he died fighting and a hero should be a source of comfort to you and his mother.” (From letter Dr. Simpson wrote to Major General George Barnett, Commandant dated December 20, 1918.)

The 3/6 moved forward until 20:30, when the attack finally stalled due to the high number of casualties that had been inflicted by the Germans defending Belleau Wood. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) The 3/6 ended up at the southeast edge of Belleau Wood. (Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War I) James was one of 222 Marines killed that day. The Marines suffered more casualties on June 6, 1918, that the total of all previous casualties of the Marine Corps in its entire history. (The Battle of Belleau Wood)

For his actions, James was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star. The god Star was the fourth highest of the five grades of the Croix de Guerre and meant his citation had been issues at the Army Corps level.

The citation for his Croix de Guerre read:

“Displayed bravery and coolness in attacking (with seven others) a strongly fortified machine gun nest, which they captured and held.”

The men and action in which James was killed also mentioned in the 2nd Divisions General Order No. 40 on page 49. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

James Young Simpson, Jr. was included under killed in action in Casualty Cablegram No. 169 dated June 23, 1918. He was initially interred on June 24, 1918, in Lucy-le-Bocage, Aisne, France, on Hill 181 in grave number 9. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

A dispatch dated June 25, 1918, from Headquarters, Marine Corps, informed Mrs. Leonora Simpson that a cablegram had been received stating James Young Simpson, Jr. was killed in action between June 6 and June 8, 1918, and that burial would be abroad until after the war. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

A letter dated December 11, 1919, from the War Department explained to the Simpson family the then current arrangements for remains buried “outside of the zone of the armies” versus those buried “inside the zone of the armies”, and asked that the family express their wishes for the disposition of the remains of James Simpson. The family ultimately decided to allow James to remain in France. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book) James was reinterred on October 11, 1922, in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Belleau, France, Block A, row 6, Grave 33. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book, www.abmc.gov/search/wwi_list.php)

Website www.webmatters.net/france/ww1_belleau_usa.htm documents the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and the battle for Belleau Wood.

Before his death, James Simpson served in the 4th Marine Brigade with four future Commandants of the Marine Corps:

Wendell Cushing Neville, 14th Commandant
Thomas Holcomb, 17th Commandant
Clifton Bledso Cates, 19th Commandant
Lemuel Cornick Shepard, Jr., 20th Commandant

“SOLDIERS OF THE GREAT WAR MEMORIAL EDITION, VOL. II”, published by the Soldiers Record Publishing Association of Washington, D.C., copyrighted in 1920, has a picture of James Simpson on page 163.

In early 1919, Dr. Simpson became aware that Sergeant Frank and Private Taff had been awarded Distinguished Service Crosses for the action of June 6, 1918. To honor the memory of his son, Dr. Simpson conducted a letter writing campaign to see if his son was not entitled to the same medal. Dr. Simpson had gotten the birthday letter from his son published in a local Kansas City newspaper and in the August 31, 1918, edition of “The Literary Digest”, so he enclosed copies of those articles over time in the letters to President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Commandant George Barnett, and Major General Omar Bundy (US Army), commanding officer, 2nd Division. Subsequent reviews did not show that his son had been cited for a Distinguished Service Cross, but did reveal that besides being awarded a Croix de Guerre with Gold Star, James Young Simpson, Jr. was entitled to the Victory Medal with ribbon, one Aisle Defense Battle Clasp, one Defensive Sector Clasp, and two Bronze Stars. (James Young Simpson Service-Record book)

The University of Missouri Alumnus Magazine mentioned James in several issues after he left Columbia. It was noted that he was believed to be the first MU student to graduate to be a combat fatality in the war. It also noted that MU students had formed the James Y. Simpson American Legion Post 164 in Columbia. (http://muarchives.missouri.edi/digcoll.html) This post was chartered October 16, 1919, bush the charter was cancelled January 21, 1920 because the post was formed by students rather than veterans. (jgazvoda@legion.org, American Legion National Headquarters) James Simpson was one of 117 former MU students and graduates who died during the war. They were honored by the University of Missouri for their sacrifice by the dedication of the Memorial Union and Memorial Stadium in 1926. The names of these veterans were inscribed in the archways of the Memorial Union Tower. (http://muarchives.missouri.edi/digcoll.html, muarchives.missouri.edu/militarydeaths.html)

In 1923, then commandant of the Marine Corps John A. Lejeune was the driving force behind the creation of the Marine Corps League. The mission statement of the Marine Corps League reads:

Members of the Marine Corps League join together in camaraderie and fellowship for the purpose of preserving the traditions and promoting the interests of the United States Marine Corps, banding together those who are now serving in the United States Marine Corps and those who have been honorably discharged from that service that they may effectively promote the ideals of American feed and democracy, voluntarily aiding and rendering assistance to all Marines and former Marines and to their widows and orphans, and to perpetuate the history of the United States Marine Corps and by fitting acts to observe the anniversaries of historical occasions of particular interest to Marines.

General Lejeune, as the first Commandant of the Marine Corps League, signed the charter for the Simpson-Hoggatt Detachment (984) of Kansas City, Missouri on June 1, 1925. The detachment was named for James Simpson Jr. and Harry Hoggatt, two Kansas City Marines who were killed in action during World War I. Harry Hoggatt also served in the 6th Marines and was killed in action October 5, 1918 at Mont Blanc. Although the Simpson-Hoggatt detachment is still active, the detachment donated their original charter to the Marine Corps Archives at Quantico, Virginia because of the historical significance of it being signed by John Lejeune. The charter was presented to the Archives on August 9, 2007.

The same Marines who founded the Simpson-Hoggatt Detachment also chartered the Simpson-Hoggatt American Legion Post (329) in Kansas City, Missouri. the charter for this post was issued on November 29, 1941, and was cancelled on May 10, 2001. (muarchives.missouri.edu/militarydeaths.html)


  1. Information shown in the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Census.
  2. Biography and Service Record of James Young Simpson, Jr.
    State of Missouri Adjutant General’s Office
    A copy of this document was found in:
    Missouri Valley Room
    Kansas City Public Library
    14 W. 10th St.
    Kansas City, Missouri
  3. Kansas City, Missouri, City Directories, 1900-1920.Missouri Valley Room
    Kansas City Public Library
    14 W. 10th St.
    Kansas City, Missouri
  4. Information provided by:Kansas City, Missouri School District
    1211 McGee St.
    Kansas City, Missouri
  5. The 1915 Westport High School Yearbook, ‘The Herald’Missouri Valley Room
    Kansas City Public Library
    14 W. 10th St.
    Kansas City, Missouri
  6. http://muarchives.missouri.edi/digcoll.htmlTab for University of Missouri Alumnus Magazine
    Mentioned in December 1917, February 1919, May 1919, December 1919, June 1921,
    September 1921, and October 1926 issues.
  7. http://muarchives.missouri.edi/digcoll.htmlTab for University of Missouri Yearbook, ‘The Savitar’
    1916 yearbook, pages 161 and 367
  8. Office of the University Registrar126 Jesse Hall
    University of Missouri-Columbia
    Columbia, MO 65211
  9. World War Soldier Dead MemorialAnnals of Kansas City
    Published under the auspices of
    Missouri Valley Historical Society
    Kansas City, MO
    Published by Kellog-Baxter Printing Co.
    301-3-5 Admiral Blvd.
    Kansas City, MO
    James Young Simpson, Jr. entry is on page 32
  10. Unidentified newspaper clippings Dr. Simpson enclosed with his letter dated January 22, 1919 which was addressed to the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels.
  11. Devil Dogs: fighting Marines of World War IGeorge B. Clark
    Published by Presidio Press
    505 B San Martin Drive, Suite 300
    Novalto, CA 94945-1340
  12. James Young Simpson Service-Record bookNational Personnel Records Center
    (Military Personnel Records)
    9700 Page Ave.
    St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
  13. ‘The Literary Digest’August 31, 1918, page 58
  14. Missouri Secretary of State websitewww.sos.mo.gov/archies/soldiers
  15. From letter Dr. Simpson wrote to Major General George Barnett, Commandant dated December 20, 1918.
  16. The Battle of Belleau WoodEarle Rice, Jr.
    Published by Lucent Books, Inc.
    P.O. box 289001
    San Diego, CA 92198-9011
  17. www.abmc.gov/search/wwi_list.php
  18. JoEllenGazvodajgazvoda@legion.org
    American Legion National Headquarters
  19. muarchives.missouri.edu/militarydeaths.html