WWII pilot posthumously honored as Sen. Tester presents medals to family

Billings Gazette

by Rob Rogers

Officially, the wreck was ruled pilot error.

The P-47 Thunderbolt Lt. Jay Simpson was test piloting over England on Jan. 9, 1944, crashed belly up in a field near the town of Moreton. Simpson was killed instantly, his unopened parachute was found in the wreckage.

With the ruling, the medals Simpson would have earned as a World War II combat veteran and wartime pilot were never awarded. Then, last year Simpson's great-grandson Jim Simpson wrote an essay for his history class at Lewis and Clark Middle School that changed it all.

On Friday morning Sen. Jon Tester met with Jim Simpson, who is now a freshman at Senior High, and presented him with his great grandfather's medals.

"There is a great sense of closure," Jim Simpson said.

Smiling and shaking the teenager's hand, Tester told Simpson that he gives him hope for the future.

"You did good work," Tester said. "You should be proud."

Jay Simpson's story starts where it ended in Moreton, England. A small, polished plaque sits in a town bridge as a memorial to the test pilot. The old-timers remember the night his plane crashed.

"They saw a different story," said James Simpson, Jay's son and Jim's grandfather.
There was no pilot error involved, James Simpson said. According to the townspeople, Jay Simpson, with the malfunctioning Thunderbolt on fire, was flying in close to the city center.

It seemed certain that he would crash into a group of homes. But moments later Simpson was able to bring the aircraft around and get it pointed toward a cabbage patch on the outskirts of town. The maneuver flipped the plane upside down and the crash killed Simpson.

The Simpsons learned of this story still told in Moreton about three years ago. Jim Simpson's cousin had stumbled across a website dedicated to the World War II history surrounding the English town. It was there she learned the details surrounding her great-grandfather's crash.

Jim Simpson had heard the World War II piloting stories from his grandfather. Jim's parents both work and so Jim would spend the summers with James.

"They did the bonding," Jim's father, Mike Simpson, said.

"He always told me stories," Jim Simpson said.

Then, about a year and a half ago, Jim Simpson got the assignment to write an essay for his history class and decided to research the story of his great-grandfather and his legacy in Moreton.

"I wrote the paper and then I emailed it to (Sen. Tester)," he said.

Tester's office was intrigued. The senator serves on the veterans affairs committee and he told his staff to look into it.

"It took a while for the research to be done," Mike Simpson said.

Nearly 18 months passed and then the family finally got the call from Tester's office. Lt. Jay Simpson would be awarded the World War II Victory Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Honorable Service pin.

"On behalf of a grateful nation, it is my tremendous honor to present Lt. Jay Simpson's medals to his great-grandson," Tester announced as he beckoned Jim to come stand with him.

Attending the presentation were soldiers from the Montana Army National Guard.