“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest scars of war.” –Douglas MacArthur
Paul Gibbs was in his early 20’s when he answered our nation’s call. The native Mississippian doesn’t like to get into the details of his experience in Vietnam, but he will tell the tale of a brave brother-in-arms who never made it back. It’s the story of one of our nation’s heroes, being told by a hero. And though he deserves accolades for what happened on that fateful day, Gibbs will tell you he has “…awards I didn’t deserve.”
Let history show that that just isn’t so.
Gibbs joined the Marine Corps in 1969, attending Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and later assigned to D Co., 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in the Republic of Vietnam. Mr. Gibbs assumed command of a reconnaissance platoon and led his Marines on several operations and engagements with the enemy.
During one of the engagements, Mr. Gibbs’ platoon received heavy fire and was ultimately pinned down. “We were actually trying to get to another unit that was pinned down. It hit the fan then. We were outnumbered, we were pinned down, and it was just the heroics of some brave Marines that kept that unit from being wiped out,” he recounted during an interview with Paul Gallo on SuperTalk Mississippi.
They tried to call in air support. “But the problem is, the maps over there weren’t that good. And we were pretty far out. We would do air support by hit and miss. In other words, drop and then we would say…come this way, or go that way or whatever,” he explained. Today’s technology can make that scenario hard to imagine. But the risk was all too real for these brave soldiers. One error in communication, and the men you’ve called to save you could end up doing the opposite.
Gibbs radio telephone operator (RTO) was one Private first Class Ralph Dias. He’d been wounded, and Gibbs ran to his aid, but “he stayed with me and he said, I’m leaving when you’re leaving. ” Gibbs himself was severely wounded in the exchange when rounds shattered his femur at the hip. Still, he crawled the last ten yards to reach his RTO.
Gibbs first-hand account of his RTO’s bravery to his chain of command became the basis of PFC Dias posthumously receiving the Medal of Honor. The story of his sacrifice is listed on the pages of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society:
As a member of a reaction force which was pinned down by enemy fire while assisting a platoon in the same circumstance, Pfc. Dias, observing that both units were sustaining casualties, initiated an aggressive assault against an enemy machine-gun bunker which was the principal source of hostile fire. Severely wounded by enemy snipers while charging across the open area, he pulled himself to the shelter of a nearby rock. Braving enemy fire for a second time, Pfc. Dias was again wounded. Unable to walk, he crawled 15 meters to the protection of a rock located near his objective and, repeatedly exposing himself to intense hostile fire, unsuccessfully threw several hand grenades at the machine-gun emplacement. Still determined to destroy the emplacement, Pfc. Dias again moved into the open and was wounded a third time by sniper fire. As he threw a last grenade, which destroyed the enemy position, he was mortally wounded by another enemy round. Pfc. Dias’ indomitable courage, dynamic initiative, and selfless devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
Many years later, a judge in Alabama who had been a fellow platoon commander with Mr. Gibbs called Mr. Gibbs’ mother. The judge recounted the engagement above and related that his platoon was dispatched to the aid of Mr. Gibbs’ platoon. As he arrived on the site, he fully expected to find Mr. Gibbs dead given the severity of the engagement. Upon finding Mr. Gibbs alive but seriously wounded and bleeding, the judge said Mr. Gibbs refused evacuation until all of his Marines were safely evacuated. The judge further related that upon his return to Mr. Gibbs after several air evacuations, he “really did” expect not to find Mr. Gibbs alive but much to his surprise, Mr. Gibbs was, in fact, still alive. As the judge’s Marines carried Mr. Gibbs on a stretcher to the evacuation landing zone, the judge said all of his Marines who were sitting down resting stood in respect for Mr. Gibbs as he passed.
Gibbs spent 18 months recovering in military hospitals, but he never forgot the bravery of the men who died that day. “He kept firing his weapon until the second he died. He was a brave, young Marine, and he kept us from getting hurt worse. I had 9 men up there that day, and 6 were killed.”
Paul Gibbs spends his days at the VA Hospital in Oxford now, surrounded by other veteran’s with their own stories to tell. So many stories. So much sacrificed. May God find a special place for each and every one of these brave souls. And may we all pause to honor them on this, and every Memorial Day.