MAGGIE VALLEY — Kenneth Walton "Ken" Simpson, once one of America’s youngest and most courageous fighting men since the Civil War, died Sunday, May 18, 2014, at his home atop Walker Bald Mountain in Haywood County following a period of declining health. He was 85 years old.
Through deception, Simpson served as a seaman at the age of only 14 through part of World War II aboard the USS Edwin A. Howard, a Navy destroyer escort, in both the Atlantic and Pacific. When the Navy discovered his true age, Simpson was put ashore at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and had to hitchhike his way home to Wake Forest, a journey that took four months and became a storybook lifetime journey.
Once old enough to legally enlist again, Simpson signed on with the Navy, spent time in Guam where he completed his high school education, and continued his boxing career that had begun in the Golden Gloves program in Raleigh.
Following his tour of duty on Guam, Simpson briefly joined an insurance company in Raleigh. But when the Korean Conflict erupted, Simpson signed up yet again, this time with the Army, and became a war hero as a first lieutenant in battles near the 38th Parallel in Korea.
He saw some of the bloodiest firefights of that war, was twice blown up by North Korean hand grenades, and at least twice returned to battlefields to rescue fellow soldiers, on one occasion leading a temporarily blinded sergeant through withering fire to safety.
Simpson’s heroism was noted in Washington March 21, 2013, when North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble made a statement from the floor of the United States House of Representative honoring Simpson. The congressman’s statement became a part of the day’s Congressional Record.
After retiring from the military, Simpson became a giant of the greeting card industry by still using his take-no-prisoners approach in his new world of business. In the process, he became the first American to personally oversee the sale of more than $1 million in greeting cards in a single season.
Known for his compassion for his employees and his contentious nature with higher ups, Simpson became a major force in the business by completely changing the manner in which greeting cards were traditionally marketed and in the process providing employment for thousands of workers. On two occasions Simpson virtually singlehandedly saved major U.S. greeting card companies from the clutches of the corporate raiders of the time.
Although Simpson, a native of North Carolina, traveled throughout the country on greeting card business, he fell in love with the mountains in the western end of the state and spent his final working years and his retirement years in a home he designed atop Walker Bald.
He would claim that at 5,400 feet the home he shared with his wife, Laura, was the loftiest permanent residence in the United States east of the Mississippi River. He would view the world from that magnificent perspective of the Blue Ridge Mountains where bears, bobcats and deer were his closest neighbors for more than the last 30 years of his life.
A passion that survived throughout Simpson’s life from childhood through the senior citizen years was his love for dogs, specifically German shepherds. His last-of-the-line named Simpson died 18 months ago and Simpson, the owner, will be buried beside his beloved companion.
His unique life was featured in his biography, "Warrior: From Grenades to Greeting Cards, the True Story of an American Fighting Man," written by North Carolina author Wilt Browning in 2011.
Simpson was born in Roanoke Rapids March 11, 1929, to Verny Walton Simpson and Sarah Annie James and grew up in Wake Forest. He was the second of four children and had survived them all. They are Harold Simpson (whose wife, Patsy, still lives in Tallahassee, Florida), and sisters, Elaine Simpson Kniffen, and Donna Simpson Tuttle, both of whom lived in Norfolk, Virginia.
In addition to his wife, Laura, Simpson is survived in his immediate family by son, Kenneth W. Simpson Jr. (Susan), of Jasper, Georgia, daughter, Carol Lark Miller (Danny), of Cumming, Georgia, and son, Sammy Mark Simpson, of Wake Forest.
He also has five grandchildren, Melissa Simpson, Emily Ramirez (Ed), Josh Simpson (Monica), Sarah Jordan Slack and Angel Hyde (Josh); and six great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. His half-sister, Helen Simpson White, lives nearby in Hendersonville.
At Ken’s request no funeral services are planned. Memorials may be made to MedWest-Haywood Hospice & Palliative Care, 560 Leroy George Drive, Clyde, NC 28786.
Wells Funeral Homes & Cremation Services of Waynesville is in charge of arrangements. An online memorial register is available at www.wellsfuneralhome.com.