Simmons, a United States Army infantryman, was in German-occupied Netherlands just prior to the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest on the Western Front, an effort he would eventually take part in.
But even though he was thousands of miles away from his own home, he was being welcomed into another.
It was in Hulsberg, Netherlands, where the Meex family took in Simmons, giving him a bed to sleep on and warm food to eat.
It was something Simmons, who died in 1984, always remembered.
“My dad always spoke fondly of this family in the Netherlands,” said Royetta Doe, Simmons’ daughter. “They always took him in and treated him like family.”
It’s for that reason Doe has made it her mission to track down the Meex family and thank them.
“My goal is to write the family a thank you letter and let them know their kindness was not forgotten,” she said. “It was just so nice of them, a young man so far from home, for them to take him in.”
Her father always talked about the Meex family, though not mentioning them by name. Like many veterans, he didn’t talk much about his service during the war, Doe said.
It wasn’t until recently she was reminded of her father’s Dutch hosts.
Doe’s mother, Ida, died in 2010 and among her belongings was a shoebox full of letters the husband and wife exchanged during the war.
“It was in the closet for a long time and I thought I need to look through that,” Doe said, deciding to dust off the box six years after her mother’s death. Mixed in with the letters between her parents were letters to and from Alfons Meex, one of the sons who took in Simmons in 1944.
Reading through the letters, Doe found that Alfons Meex had begun to teach her father the Dutch language, played games with him and discussed family life.
Simmons gifted Alfons Meex with a pair of shoes, a valued item under German occupation.
Simmons was eventually wounded by shrapnel at war, something that earned him a trip home. Alfons Meex found out about the injury and later wrote him to check in.
“I cannot tell you how glad we were to hear that you and your family were in good health. I intended many times to write your wife and ask her about you, but I thought when something had happened to you, it would be no pleasure for your wife to write,” Alfons Meex wrote in a letter dated Oct. 6, 1944. “We were very glad that you had not forgotten our family.”
It became apparent to Doe she had to reach out.
“I started thinking about how I could find them,” Doe said.
Internet searches turned up nothing, so Doe connected with the Joint Archives of Holland at Hope College, who found addresses to a local church and the town hall in Hulsberg.
She got no response.
Then she took to social media, where she had success.
She found a LinkedIn page for a Hans Meex, who lived not far from Hulsberg. She connected with him on Facebook and although he had not heard any of the names of the Meex family who hosted Doe’s father, he opted to lend a hand.
Hans Meex discovered that Alfons Meex and most of his immediate family are deceased, but was able to track down some of his own distant relatives who turned out being descendants of the Meex family.
Hans Meex connected with Mariette Thijssen-Meex, a niece of Alfons Meex. He provided her address to Doe, who already has written her letter and will send it out this week.
All that is left is to await a response.
“Now I really have hope we’ll be able to reconnect,” Doe said. “The bucket list would be to go to the Netherlands and shake their hands and take them out to lunch.”