- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2020

RAPID CITY, S.D (AP) - Allen Gibbs doesn’t consider himself a hero. The 98-year-old veteran has been called a hero many times in his life, but he will tell you he doesn’t deserve the title compared to others he served with in World War II.

The people who call him a hero know Gibbs served his country well. They’ve seen him on an Honor Flight. They know the sacrifices he and his generation made to preserve the country.

“Everyone called us heroes and it made us really uncomfortable,” Gibbs said. “We were just the right age at the right time and our government gave us a job to do.”

The job he did included serving in the 31st Infantry Division - known as the “Dixie Division” - in the South Pacific, the Rapid City Journal reported. Gibbs‘ service began when he was 21, in 1942. He listened to news reports working nights in Vermillion, South Dakota. He went to enlist, but the draft board got to him first. Gibbs was trained as an infantry radio operator. There were some benefits to having technical training, but he was also forced to pack and carry a 49-pound radio everywhere his division went. Gibbs had a backpack molded to fit him that was designed to make the load easier to haul around, but he was still forced to carry fewer food rations with him than normal because the extra weight was more trouble than it was worth.

“It was like strapping a microwave oven to your back and carrying it around,” Gibbs said.

He hadn’t been on land on Goodenough Island near New Guinea when his division first came under attack. Fortunately, that first attack brought more cackling than casualties.

Most of his fellow soldiers were suffering with yellow skin when his division landed on the island. He soon discovered that, because the Japanese had the market cornered on quinine, the United States was using Atabrine to ward off effects of malaria. They had given the soldiers a quadruple dose to start the treatment and that turned their skin yellow. It also added a great deal of discomfort.

In his memoir, Gibbs says most of the soldiers were outside their tents “heaving up the Atabrine and everything else not securely anchored to their intestines.” That’s when the soldiers were sure they were coming under attack by the Japanese. “We decided it must be a banzai attack,” Gibbs recalled. The troops had heard a lot about the all-out attacking style of their Japanese enemies.

“It was the damnedest noise you have ever heard,” Gibbs said of the commotion that first night. But it turns out it wasn’t the enemy after all. “We thought it was a banzai attack but parrots had moved in on us. They were objecting to us being there. There were hundreds of them.”

Gibbs said he will never forget the squawking racket those parrots made that first day on land in combat.

Gibbs was never injured in combat. But he wasn’t necessarily one of the lucky ones. He came down with both dengue fever and hepatitis while he was overseas and he even had to have his appendix removed in less than ideal conditions.

“The surgery was on a stretcher sitting on C-ration boxes with one light bulb,” Gibbs said. “The doctors had just worked on a patrol that had been shot up really bad from eight thirty until midnight and they brought me in and asked what was wrong with me. When they said ‘appendicitis’ the doctor said, ‘Damn civilian disease.’”

The recovery from his surgery was supposed to take six weeks, but Gibbs knew that he risked being reassigned if he didn’t get back to his division so after only four weeks, he caught a ride on a flat boat.

“I couldn’t get a plane across. I don’t know why I did that. We didn’t have any way of defending ourselves,” Gibbs said. Their signal man was drunk so since Gibbs knew how to work the lights, they gave him a ride across so he wouldn’t be transferred to another outfit.

Gibbs said he didn’t have advice for today’s military men and women because he doesn’t know what they go through each day. He has a lot of respect for today’s military members.

“Today’s army is better educated, better trained and better equipped,” he said. “One advantage we had was always knowing who our enemy was. They don’t always know that today.”

He said World War II was different than other missions in our country’s history because the country was unified.

“Everyone was at war,” Gibbs said. “Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Ladies went to work. People rationed. Everyone was in support of what we were doing.”

Gibbs joked that he only received one medal during his service.

“I got the good conduct medal, and I’m not so sure I deserved that,” he chuckled. He also received campaign ribbons and several other honors.

In his memoir, Gibbs mused about his success as a soldier.

“Sometimes I wonder if I really made a difference,” Gibbs wrote. “If the criteria is putting a bullet into an enemy, then I didn’t. If, as generally conceded, communication contributed to the overall success of an operation, then perhaps I did.”

Since he left the service, Gibbs has enjoyed 73 years married to his wife Kathie. They live together in St. Martin’s Village at the Good Samaritan Society in Rapid City.

“I probably wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for her,” he said. “Though not part of my war time years, she is what has made life worthwhile, ever since.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide