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Snowamass vet helped seal victory

John Colson
Mark Fox/The Aspen TimesWorld War II army veteran and artist Virgil Simon, 81, and his wife Joan. Simon designed the seal supposed to be used on Japaneses surrender documents.
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SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” Virgil Simon was asked to help the United States seal its World War II victory over Japan almost exactly 61 years ago ” although he was nowhere near the USS Missouri on the day the Japanese officially surrendered to the Allies.

It was on Sept. 2, 1945, that Japanese officials formally surrendered, signing the Instrument of Surrender aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay. But Emperor Hirohito had announced his nation’s capitulation more than two weeks earlier, on Aug. 14, in the wake of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki three days later.

Some time after the announcement Simon, an accomplished artist whose sketches earned him a small measure of fame among his fellow soldiers, was asked to design a seal that would be used on the documents that Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and other officials signed.

He did as he was asked, turned the result over to his superior officers and never heard another word about it.

“I don’t even know if they used it,” he said in a recent interview at his Snowmass Village home, which he shares with his wife of 62 years, Joan.

Simon, 81 ” born Virgil Steifel to a farm family in Gypsum, Kan. ” was raised by an aunt’s family in Iowa after his mom died when he was 2.

Signing up for the Army in Iowa in 1944, he went first to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where his abilities as a portrait artist, which he had been honing since he was very young, were first noticed. One of the colonels at Aberdeen asked Simon to paint a portrait.

“I thought it’d be his wife,” Simon recalled, but it turned out to be the officer’s favorite dog.

He married Joan on his first furlough from basic training and not too long afterward shipped out for the Pacific Theater.

On the month-long transit from the U.S. to the Philippines ” lying around while the sailors did all the work aboard ship ” Simon filled his sketchbook with studies of his comrades in arms. The troop ship landed at Manila after dodging enemy submarines all over the South Pacific and actually being fired on once.

Once on land at Clark Air Force Base in Manila, he found himself with the rank of private, serving at one of the largest U.S. bases in the Pacific theater, in charge of the base sign shop.

“It wasn’t a very glamorous job, but it was necessary,” Simon said. “I did not fight … with my gun.”

In fact, he couldn’t recall being in so much as a fistfight the whole time he was in the service. In some of his spare time, he said, he also sang bass in a quartet that would perform around the base.

Simon said he was proud to be picked to design the seal for the treaty but generally downplayed his own and the seal’s importance in the broader scheme of things.

For example, he said, the seal did not even contain the names of President Harry S. Truman or of MacArthur, any prominent officials involved in the war, the surrender ceremony or anything else.

He said he didn’t work on it for very long before turning the design over to a tool and die shop for fabrication into a metal version.

“I wasn’t too impressed with it,” he said of his work. “I had just one copy.” But, he said, he did see the seal itself before it was shipped off to Japan.

“All I know is, I did it, and I have a copy of it,” he said.

He wasn’t invited to the ceremony, never saw a copy of the “Instrument of Surrender” showing the seal and never heard whether it actually was used as intended. And a check with the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution and various military history organizations turned up no mention of either Simon’s name or the use of the seal.

Military authorities invited him to travel around the Pacific and paint scenes depicting the end of the war, but he declined.

After the war, he embarked on a career as a designer of a wide range of products, including everything from refrigerators to beer labels, and settled down in the Chicago area.

He started visiting Snowmass Village in 1967, and he and Joan bought one of the first Blue Roof condos while their kids were at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The couple has lived full time in the village for a decade or so, having built a house, which Virgil designed in part.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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