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Veteran Profiles

Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.

JOHN J. GIBBONS ★ U.S. MARINE CORPS ★ KOREAN WAR

Ellen Walsh, Honor Flight Chicago Veteran Interview Volunteer
(Flight Date: 04/12/2017)

GibbonsJ170412IMG01

(Arlington Heights, IL)  Jack Gibbons grew up in the Austin area of Chicago.  At age 19, working at Sears and Roebuck, he knew would get drafted.  Finally, in February 1951, his draft notice came., but He really didn’t want to go into the Army.  So, about 5 days later, Jack and a friend signed up for a 3-year enlistment in the Marine Corps.  He learned later that while he was being sworn into the Marines, the police were knocking on his door looking for him, because he hadn’t reported to the draft board.
After induction into the Marines in Chicago, he took a train to San Diego for basic training. It was the first-time Jack had been on a train or done any traveling. He recalls that this was an enjoyable experience as he was given a Pullman berth on the train.

After basic training in San Diego, he came home for a 10-day leave, then went back to Camp Pendleton for several months of tank training. Jack says, “I didn’t really like tanks, but I had learned to keep my mouth shut.  The Marines didn’t have any problem with discipline.  They were firm, but fair.”

GibbonsJ170412IMG02In late 1951, Jack left for Korea, spending 2 weeks crossing the ocean, stopping in Japan for 3 or 4 days.  They were put on a Japanese tanker for an overnight trip to the southern part of Korea.  “It’s a good thing it was only an overnight trip, as the Japanese are shorter people, and most of us were forever hitting our heads.”
After arriving at Pusan, Korea, his unit worked their way up north to near the Imjin River and the 38th Parallel.  This was December of 1951 shortly after a major landing in Incheon.  He was a Tank Crewman at the time.  Fortunately, the only combat action he saw was artillery shelling for about 4 months.  “It would scare the pants off you.”  He did receive combat pay for about 4 months during the shelling.  “It was only about $30 a month, and you got it in a lump sum when you got back, and I thought ‘Hot dog!”

During his year in Korea, one of his buddies had to go home on emergency leave, so Jack filled in for him as a short order cook.  Jack says, “I was buddies with this guy, and he told me it was good duty -You eat regular and you get off guard duty.  So, I did it for about 4 months, until he got back.”

GibbonsJ170412IMG03Jack was in Korea for 12 full months.  The Korean people had very little.  Jack says, “They were very unfortunate people.”  Food was scarce, and the Korean locals would look through the garbage for food. “I had never known hunger, and you see all these refugees coming from the north with only the clothes on their back.  It taught me to clean my plate.”  Because of this need, leftover food and inedible items were separated at the mess, and the edible food cans were brought into the village for the people to go through.  He says it really made him appreciate all we have in this country.
He remembers several truces, none of which lasted very long.  During one of them, his unit was sent back to the rear echelon, on the ready if the politicians changed their minds.  He received additional training and was put into amphibious tractors, which are basically landing craft, in case they had another sea landing.

After 12 months of serving in Korea he was shipped home.  His next assignment was Norfolk, VA where he was assigned to guard duty, basically as an MP, until he was discharged as a sergeant.

When Jack returned home, he went to work for the Hartz Mountain Pet Supply company. He met his first wife while he was playing 16” softball, and they had two children.  Jack lost his wife, but later married Geraldine, who already had 5 children.  Today, they’ve been married over 20 years and live in Arlington Heights, and have 16 grandchildren, 4 great -grandchildren, with the 5th great-grandchild due in June.  “Gerry’s a retired registered nurse, and she introduced me to vitamins, so I’m still here.”

GibbonsJ170412IMG04He and Gerry toured SE Asia, including Korea.  “It was 45 years after I was there, when every building of quality had been destroyed.  Now there was six lane highways and hotels, all very modern.”  He was amazed to see how much it had changed. “South Korea is full of very modern cities, while in the north people are starving.”

Jack is very proud of his Korean War Service Medal, issued by the Republic of Korea in 2000-2003 for the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. It was issued "to the brave and valiant members of the United Nations Command who have been, and are now, combating the communist aggressor in Korea."

Thank you, Jack, for your service and sacrifice during the Korean War. Enjoy your well-deserved day of honor in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight Chicago salutes you!

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