By: Calvin Evans
Thomas Merritt Simmons was born on March 4th 1893 in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1900 he was the adopted child of Nathaniel and Elsie Riley. Simmons was a colored man and he was also a Protestant, before the war he worked as a porter. He was also a part of a fraternal order called the White Lily Club.
Simmons enlisted in the Regular Navy and went through his training on the USS St. Helena, Norfolk, VA, where he was stationed for three months. He was then transferred to the USS New Jersey where he was stationed for fifteen months, and then the USS Jenkins where he was stationed for eighteen months. Simmons earned the enlisted rank of 3rd class mess attendant. His original assignment was on board the USS Allen (nine months) in Boston, MA. Simmons embarked from New York on the USS Allen on June 14th, 1917 and arrived in St. Nazair, France on June 28, 1917. He then traveled to Queenstown, Ireland on July 4th, 1917, and then to Brest, France, on February 18th, 1918. Simmons ended his tour back in the U.S. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 18th, 1919. Simmons was then transferred between the USS Melleville (one month), USS Jarvis (fourteen months), and USS Edellyn (two months). During his time in the Navy, Simmons also earned a couple of promotions. He would be promoted to Ward Room Steward then to Cabin Steward.
After the war, Simmons would find himself happiness but would sadly have a tragic end to his life. Simmons married Lonnie Mae Midget in 1923. However, by 1940 he was in jail. Referring to the records of the California State Senate, he would be convicted of second degree murder in 1938 and spent nine years in jail for killing his wife with an axe.
Legislature of the State of California, The Journal of the Senate. Vol. 1, 1959, 85.
United States Census, 1900, 1910, 1940.
Thomas Merritt Simmons, World War I Questionnaire, Library of Virginia.