Retired Soldier, civilian finds 'Wonderful Life' with the Army
June 9, 2010
- Missouri native retiring after almost 50 years of service to the Army
- Sims recalls chance encounter with film legend
HEIDELBERG, Germany - It's been almost 50 years since Douglas Sims left behind the soybean fields of Norborne, Mo. to join the ranks of the U.S. Army.
At the time very few people, including Sims, could have ever imagined his travels would take him everywhere from the "long gray line" to the jungles of Vietnam to the company of presidents and even a beloved film legend.
By all accounts, Sims has had a "wonderful life."
Yet, these days you'd most likely find him sitting quietly at his desk, Harley Davidson coffee mug in hand, donning a crisp white shirt or 'his uniform' as he likes to call it, carefully going over the day's agenda.
Sims' door is always open to coworkers and visitors in search of a quick chat or even a chuckle. A film poster from the movie "Casablanca" and pictures of his grandchildren adorn the walls of his office.
Sims is the deputy of the Force Management Division, Headquarters U.S. Army Europe G-3. His office is responsible for helping to field new equipment to Soldiers and maintaining readiness for Army units in Europe.
He came to the division in 1993 after 27 years as a Soldier.
"I joined the military because I had no place else to go," Sims said. "I had no money to go to school. I came from a fairly poor background, and the opportunity to go to West Point arose."
Sims graduated from West Point in 1966 and left for Vietnam soon after. During his time there, the young officer experienced a chance encounter with the late actor Jimmy Stewart, best known for his role in the 1946 American classic, "It's a Wonderful Life." Stewart was there visiting troops serving in the war zone.
"He and I were just sitting down chit chatting, and he was just like you would imagine on the screen-very warm, personable individual and extremely pleasant and down to earth," Sims recalled.
"And back in those days, we didn't have video teleconferencing that you could talk to your wife on, so we sent recordings back and forth. So I said 'Jimmy would you say hello to my wife,' and he says 'sure sure'... and he gave that ol' 'how ya doing and it's sure good to see you.' I still have the recording stored at home. That was probably one of the nicest meetings I ever had with an individual," Sims said.
Some people like Lime Li, a command management analyst at G-3, would say the same about Sims. The two have been friends for 18 years and worked together for eight.
"Always pleasant, always has a smile. I don't think I remember ever seeing him upset," Li said. "We all respect him as a person and as a boss. I think it's because he always has an ear open for any problems you have and for any concerns. Anytime you need to talk to someone, he's there."
After leaving Vietnam, the father of two took on assignments in Wurzburg and Washington, D.C., where he was a familiar face in the halls of the Pentagon, working with the secretary of the Army and chief of staff of the Army. Sims also served as an official escort for dignitaries during the presidential inaugurations of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
Sims says the best thing about his military service was the opportunities it gave him to travel but most importantly, to take care of Soldiers, which is something he continues to do some 17 years after retiring from active-duty as a lieutenant colonel.
One of those Soldiers is his son, Lt. Col. Douglas Sims Jr., a squadron commander with the 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment stationed in Vilseck. Just like his father, the younger Sims is also a West Point graduate class of 1992. His other son is a warden at a prison in West Texas. The elder Sims says he's proud of both of his children and the leadership paths they've taken in life.
When he's not behind his desk, you'll most likely find Sims' behind the handlebars of his custom Harley enjoying the open road with his wife Karen, also an avid motorcyclist, or running with the Hash Hause Harriers international running club. He's also president of the West Point Society of Germany.
Soon Sims will have even more time for riding and running, at least when he's not busy welding a hammer and nails. After almost 50 years of service both in and out of uniform and two decades in Germany, Sims is retiring and moving to Maryland, where he says his wife already has a long list of home improvement projects awaiting him.
"I think the most important thing that I am going to remember is that we are really a big team. I don't care if you're a cadet, an officer, enlisted or a civilian, you are a part of a really important team," Sims said. "Although I'm ready to retire, I'll miss the focus each day of doing something for the Soldiers ... and I think I'll miss that kind of energy and excitement, but I'm going to enjoy the peacefulness of the hills of Maryland."
Although most of Sims' coworkers knew this day would come, they admit the office won't be the same without him.
"I'm going to miss the laughs, and I'm going to miss his understanding," said Cecil Moore, USAREUR operational needs statements manager. "Doug is a strategic thinker who has a unique way of thinking, and he's someone who cares about people throughout the division and USAREUR.
"It's going to be hard and there will be a void that's missing. One that will probably be pretty hard to fill. We are all going to miss Doug, and we'll also miss the laughter and the leadership."