Bryan native Al Sims’ early life was marked with accomplishment.
He excelled as the high school quarterback and basketball point guard at E.A. Kemp High School. He joined the Air Force and served two tours in Vietnam before going on to earn a law degree and working for the Internal Revenue Service in Seattle as an attorney.
But as time passed, his post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues took their toll, his family said. He left the IRS and began spending time roaming the streets in California, Fort Worth and eventually Bryan, His family pleaded for him to come to live with a loved one, but the Sims clan could not seem to convince him not to wander, younger sister Katie Charles Paul said.
Last week, Sims died in an alley in Downtown Bryan. Now members of the community are working to make sure his memory and service are never forgotten.
Dustin Batson, a Marine Corps veteran and owner of Downtown Elixir and Spirits, got to know Sims over the past two years. He would chat with him and was even able to coax him indoors to enjoy a meal a few times. Sims didn’t panhandle, Batson said, and kept to himself. Both the homeless and the business community of Downtown Bryan respected Sims, Batson added.
Batson said he recently purchased another property downtown, and on Aug. 28 was at the site to turn on the electricity. He saw Sims on a blanket in a nearby alley and initially believed Sims was sleeping, but he soon realized Sims wasn’t breathing. Batson didn’t notice any sign of a wound or struggle and believes he may have died in his sleep.
“I was in the Marine Corps infantry, and I have seen a lot of dead bodies, but I’m just more sad that Al died alone,” Batson said.
Batson and other community members — including Glenn Duhon, manager with Hillier Funeral Home — have been working to make sure that the people of Bryan-College Station don’t forget about Sims.
As word spread, veterans from across the area — and even as far away as to the Pentagon, Batson said — heard Sims’ story. Now Sims will have full military honors at his funeral, as well as a flyover. Members of the local VFW and American Legion will attend, and Texas A&M Corps of Cadets Commandant Joe Ramirez will send a team of uniformed cadets to assist in the funeral proceedings.
The community’s efforts to honor her brother means a lot to Paul, who lives in Houston. She remembered he was haunted by demons after his return from Vietnam, and his family convinced him to receive treatment at a mental health facility many years ago. Paul said he was given electroshock therapy, and the treatment was so upsetting for Sims he refused to seek medical help or trust a doctor after that.
The last time she saw Sims was about three weeks ago, when she made one of her bimonthly visits to Bryan to visit him. She said something seemed off about him.
“The last time I saw him, I begged him to see a doctor,” she said tearfully. “He said he would pray on it.”
Sims may have been by himself when he died, but his sister said he knew he was loved by many. According to Paul, his surviving siblings and other family members stayed in constant contact with him.
“Our family didn’t have a lot, but we had love,” she said.
Paul added that Sims worked for a downtown business for several years and spent stints living at Twin City Mission. He liked to wear a fedora and always tucked in his shirts. She said he often could be found near Mr. G’s Pizzeria and spent time at the Carnegie History Center.
He never complained, Paul noted, and he had a good relationship with a few Bryan police officers, who would watch over him and help him communicate with his family out of town.
The funeral put together by the local community means the world to Sims’ family, his sister said.
“It just makes us feel so good,” she said. “With our brother being in the military, we hoped he could get a flag. To hear the community is doing this, means more than I can say.”