Local vet turns 95

Over 70 years ago, Joe Sims was sailing on a battleship escort in the Mediterranean, fighting off German submarines and dive-bombers.

Back in the present day, Sunday marked Sims’ 95th birthday, and he was able to enjoy music, dancing and spending time with his great-great grandson and many others at the Kopper Kettle in the Iowa Veterans Home.

“My brothers used to kid with me, and say all the festivities were for me,” he said, adding that he enjoyed having a birthday on the eve of Independence Day. “They’d say ‘Look Joey, they’re celebrating for you,’ as they watched all the fireworks.”

Born in Detroit and raised in Chicago, Sims made his way to Huntington Beach, Calif. where he practiced real estate for a total of 54 years. He joined the United States Coast Guard and was sent to the Mediterranean, where he was stationed from 1943-1945, the height of World War II.

Parts of the Coast Guard operated in Europe during WWII.

“I just went up to the recruiting officer and said ‘I’d like to join,” he said. “I was 20 years old.”

Hunting, and being hunted, was part of Sims’ daily live for 3 1/2 years as part of the armed seagoing escort.

“We were dealing with DU-88 dive-bombers and submarines, between (fighting) those two, we kept busy,” he said.

A gunner’s mate, Sims’ job was to keep all the battle guns in working order. He operated them as well, to defend the ship from fighter-bomber and submarine attacks.

Most of the time, Sims said his ship docked in parts of North Africa, including the Moroccan port city of Casablanca.

“I was a born sailor, I loved the water,” he said. “My only regret is not staying in the service longer, I loved it.”

He added that he had “sea legs” before he had ever stepped foot on a ship. It was natural to him, he felt in his element aboard the destroyer.

His granddaughter, Peggy Stonewall, set up the birthday party.

“We’ve got five generations here today,” she said, watching her grandpa play with his great-great-grandson. “He can still dance at 95.”

And he did dance, with his granddaughter, as an accordion played in the background.

Friends and family of all ages came to the party, and he greeted each and every one with a wide smile and an embrace.

Sims talked at-length with many at the party, regaling them with stories from his life. An expressive communicator, Sims displayed a lot of energy. His face would light up when he got on a topic he enjoyed.

The atmosphere filling the party room was patriotic, in celebration of Sims’ birthday, his service and Independence Day. Red, white and blue flags and decorations were adorned everywhere.

Despite the years that have passed since he was sailing the Mediterranean, Sims won’t forget how being in the service made him feel.

“I loved it, every minute,” he said.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com