Sealing victory | AspenTimes.com

Sealing victory

John Colson

World War II Army veteran and artist Virgil Simon, 81, with his wife, Joan. Simon designed the seal for use on documents having to do with Japans surrender to Allied forces to end World War II. (Mark Fox / The Aspen Times)

Valley resident Virgil Simon was asked to help the United States seal its World War II victory over Japan almost exactly 61 years ago today – 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 just 2 years old.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 starting to get noticed. For instance, one of the colonels at Aberdeen invited him over to the colonel’s quarters one day 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, where Simon was to be stationed, he and his fellow soldiers led a pretty dull life, lying around while the sailors did all the work aboard ship. So Simon filled his sketchbook with mostly lifelike 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. Simon said he landed in March 1944, shortly after MacArthur retook the capital, having lost it briefly to the Japanese.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.”We did all the signs for the base,” he said. “I didn’t know there were that many signs needed” for an Army base. Working mainly with Filipinos, he found that the language barrier forced him to use sign language to get across what he wanted them to do.”It wasn’t a very glamorous job, but it was necessary,” Simon said, adding, “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 but was what he termed “a placid guy.” In some of his spare time, he said, he also sang bass in a quartet that would perform around the base.

Simon admitted 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 noted, 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.”There was no big recognition at all,” he said – no commendations, no promotion from his rank of corporal, nothing. Military authorities invited him to travel around the Pacific and paint scenes depicting the end of the war, but he declined.

“I decided I wanted to come home to my wife more than I wanted to further my career as an artist and Army war correspondent,” he said.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 resided full-time in the village for a decade or so, having built a house, which Virgil designed in part, in the Divide subdivision.Making use of another of his artistic talents, Virgil Simon is one of the major supporting figures of the Aspen Choral Society and occasionally performs bass solos.

One of the lesser-known national celebrations in the United States each year is the one known as “VJ Day,” short for “Victory Over Japan Day,” which is variously described as falling on Aug. 14, Aug. 15 or Sept. 2., 1945, marking the end of World War II.According to Wikipedia, the online interactive encyclopedia, VJ Day falls on Aug. 15, because it was on that day in 1945 that the Japanese announced they were surrendering to the Allies. “The day marks the end of the Burma Campaign, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Pacific War with the U.S., and other military conflicts in Asia,” Wikipedia states.Because Japan is on the other side of the International Date Line, however, news of the announcement actually broke in the U.S. on Aug. 14, which is the date some give VJ DayBut according to the Encyclopedia Americana, which began publication in 1918, VJ Day falls on Sept. 2, which was the day the official U.S. and Japanese delegations met on the USS Missouri in the harbor at Tokyo Bay and signed the formal documents of surrender.VJ Day was so named in deliberate mimicry of Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day or VE Day), May 8, 1945, the date when the Allies formally celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.The actual signing of the unconditional surrender documents took place the day before, at 2:41 a.m., May 7, 1945, at Allied headquarters in Rheims, France, by the chief of staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, Gen. Alfred Jodl.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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