AFRH-W Resident Highlight – Floyd Sims
By Christine Baldwin, Librarian
Floyd Sims was born in Michigan during the Depression in 1929. During World War Two, his family moved to Saginaw to work in the war factories. At 16 Floyd graduated first in his class as an engineer draftsman and was hired by a local manufacturing company. After two years, he was one of only three engineers. His father convinced him to enlist in the U.S. Army, instead of being drafted…since he could pick his branch of service. He was right! Floyd picked the Army Engineers and after basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, he was sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia to attend the Engineer Drafting School. He finished first once again and was assigned to the Department of Engineering as a draftsman, and worked for Major Hollenback. The major did his own surveying for the projects and Floyd was his recorder, rodman and draftsman who drew it all up. Both the major and Floyd worked around the clock, and it did pay off later. The major taught him everything a surveyor needed to know. Making a long story short, a year later the military activated a new unit to go to Korea to oversee the construction of any new harbors to be built. And guess who was transferred to that unit…the major. The unit needed a construction surveyor so Floyd was transferred to fill that position, which was an E-7. In the following month, Floyd, at the age of 20, received a promotion to E-7, the only E-7 construction surveyor in the Army at that time. He held that honor for 17 years!
After many months waiting for orders, Floyd was sent to France, which did not have any ports or harbors. He was then assigned to the staff engineer’s office at HQ ConZ as the NCO in charge of all the construction being done under the operations office. This involved all paperwork and no surveying. Three years later Floyd received orders to a construction company HQ at Fort Ord, California. The billet was as an E-6 surveyor, but they took him, no questions asked. That company was building everything on-post and off. He was a very busy person and was awarded, along with two other sergeants, a parade in their honor. Floyd was told by the commanding general of the post, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this!” Floyd remembers another quote from his commander, Colonel Hopper, to the Provost Marshal about him: “Sergeant Sims can do anything he wants to do.” Floyd also received two oak leaf clusters to go on his ribbons.
Floyd’s next assignment was to Panama as a topographic land surveyor. They had slots for E-7’s, but he was a construction surveyor and there were no jobs for this MOS. While he worked remodeling a Baptist church, Floyd only went to his unit on pay day to get paid. After six months, Floyd told the CO that he had to have a job. He was then sent to a major, who was overseeing all the mapping in Central and South America. He was hired, but not as a surveyor. Instead, he worked with coastal magnetic work, along Panama and Costa Rico all aboard a forty-foot boat. It took a little over a year, but the final mission was accomplished. In his next assignment, Floyd was loaned out to a civilian doing “field edit” work. This entailed verifying every listing on the maps, even as small as a hut or trail. The map had to be verified by two natives before it went to print. The next “loan out” was to the chief in charge of mapping the entire country of Costa Rica. One highlight: driving the President of Panama to the top of Taboga Island (How did he know that Floyd was there and had a vehicle on his boat?). Floyd also met the president’s brother a year later and they really hit it off. They were soon fishing and going to cock fights together. (The cock fights were sort of illegal, but they took the chief of police with them.) The brother owned everything in town from the newspaper to the bakery! Floyd then went stateside to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as the NCO in charge of the construction course. In fact, he even taught one of the classes. Next Floyd went to Ethiopia to a topographic unit, which already had six E-7s. But Floyd found out why he was sent there: they needed a surveyor. He remembers being sent to Nairobi to do repair work on an instrument. It took 29 days, so he was able to do a lot of sightseeing, after the six-month survey. It was back to the engineer school again, but this time Floyd was promoted to E8. By this time, Floyd and his 12-year-old son had already spent a year building a house near the post. Floyd then retired from the military in 1970, after spending “21 Years Around the World, 1948-1970 with the Corps of Engineers” (which is the title of his book- a copy of which is at the library.)
Prior to retiring, Floyd had negotiated with Shell Oil to lease a new gas station in Manassas, Virginia. After five years at the service station, Floyd became 50% owner in a painting company that worked in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. He painted for three years and then it was off for more travel; this time all 50 states, a dozen or so islands in the Caribbean, all the Hawaiian Islands, plus Bora Bora before running low on money and returning to work. This time he was a superintendent for a construction company; the owner was a neighbor. He did this for a few years and then went into construction for himself; doing work for Shoney’s from Pennsylvania to Georgia. His next retirement was for good. When his wife had to go into a nursing home, Floyd came to AFRH-W (he is currently on the list for Gulfport) and at 88 years old he still has a bucket list!
One last story happened two years ago when he took his grandson “any place in the world he wanted to go”. He wanted to go to Ethiopia to see where his mother had lived in Africa and all the places his grandfather had been. The last day they had saved for the mapping mission, to see the HQ building, mess hall, barracks, and club that Floyd had built, but they were all gone. It was now a golf course. They finally found the clubhouse to have lunch and a drink. While sitting on the deck a native walked by, stopped, turned around and said “I know you. You worked at the mapping mission. You were the first sergeant, had five kids, two of which loved to ride horses.” He even remembered where Floyd had lived and took them there. And that had been 50 years ago! The last thing the man said was “you used to smoke cigars.” Floyd had done that for 30 years, but now smokes a pipe. But the man had remembered all this! It sure made Floyd’s trip!