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Marching to the beat of his own drum: Veterans stories fulfill Pat Simon

Pat Simon and LeRoy Torres.jpg
Posted at 1:32 PM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 16:36:50-04

Pat Simon is passionate about telling veterans’ stories.

Ask the new KRIS 6 News evening anchor for a verbal tour of his own career, and it’s quickly obvious that he’d much rather talk about something else.

“I’ll do it, like if we’re in social gatherings or somebody asks me, but most of the time I want to know about somebody else,” he said, laughing. “Not me.”

So for the last 30 years, many of those stories have focused on veterans. Ask him about the veterans he’s met, and the very personal stories they've allowed him to tell, and the avid drummer stops tapping his legs and tells you about Woody Williams, a World II veteran he covered during his time in West Virginia.

As a journalist, he cherishes veterans’ stories. But as a 30-year veteran of the military first in the U.S. Army, and later in the National Guard – they’re personal.

He did his basic training at Georgia's Fort Benning, and from there went to Fort Campbell in Kentucky as part of the 101st Airborne Division (air assault). After serving as an infantryman for a year, he was sent to LSU where he graduated one morning in 1990 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant later that afternoon. The highlight of the day -- his commencement speaker.

"Ronald Reagan," he said. "That was a super-treat. I just enjoyed The Gipper up there. It was three hours in the hot Louisiana sun, but who cares? It was fun."

One of the last stories Simon told before he came to Corpus Christi, for example, is the story of U.S. Army Cpl. Henry "Lewis" Helms, a World War II veteran from northern Alabama who reenlisted and fought in the Korean War.

He was declared MIA and presumed dead Dec. 2, 1950, but it wasn’t until May 22 -- seven decades later -- that he was able to be brought stateside and his remaining family was able to bury him.

Helms' funeral was impactful, Simon said. Simon, himself, drove two hours each way to be at the service. He was moved when he realized others there had driven more than 400 miles to pay their respects.

“I think we just owe it to them to just remember them and to tell their stories,” Simon said.

According to the national World War II Muesum, slightly more than 325,000 World War II veterans are still alive, of the 16 million who fought. Because those veterans are getting older and their numbers are dwindling, Simon said it’s more important than ever to record those firsthand accounts of history while it’s still possible, and to acknowledge their service.

“There are many people that don’t know what they did and what they gave of themselves,” he said. “I mean, can you imagine a different outcome? There’s just something special about that and their families, and how they trust you to tell their story. And it’s so important that you get it right.”

He aims to continue this work in the Coastal Bend as part of the Veterans in Focus team, hitting the ground running and talking to veteran and Burn Pits 360 co-founder LeRoy Torres who was recently the subject of a documentary film.

But while those stories are important to him, he has experience in all aspects of news -- politics, legislation, and he even has some experience in hurricanes, having covered Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as an anchor and later been part of the military's response.

Originally from Lafayette, La., the 56-year-old journalist has spent most of his career working in the South, with stops in North Carolina, Alabama, W. Virginia and his home state. Though this is his first job in Texas, this isn't his first taste of the Lone Star State. Working in Shreveport, La., familiarized him with a region referred to as ArkLaTex -- southwest Arkansas, northwest Louisiana and northeast Texas.

"When we talk about going out into communities -- you did some driving," he said. "There you really had to know three states."

One of Texan traits he's very familiar with is its love of football, something it has in common with Louisiana and Simon himself.

"In Baton Rouge, it was mostly about football," he said. "Football is huge! HUGE."

And as an LSU grad and SEC fan, he welcomes Texas' newest Big 12 refugees.

"The more the merrier," he said, with a laugh. "They’re just gonna get clobbered. They welcome competition, but it’s like -- welcome to the beatdown. Texas, Oklahoma – get ready. It’s not easy. But it’s so much fun."

Football isn't his only love. He's a national championship drummer, having been part of award-winning University of Louisiana-Lafayette drumlines from 1983-1985.

He's also an avid runner who accomplished a bucket-list goal of running the Boston Marathon in 2017, and he enjoys fishing -- a hobby that should help him fit right in the Coastal Bend.

But with the hospitality he says he's received since arriving in town two weeks ago, he seems to be adjusting nicely.

"Everybody's just so nice," he said. "They're just so nice. Everybody's been so kind to me."

And that welcome makes it that much easier for Simon to adhere to his life's philosophy.

"Find your passion, and you'll know your purpose," he said. "I feel blessed for the opportunity to carry on my passion and purpose here. In the Coastal Bend."