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INTERVIEW WITH KENNETH F. GIBSON, MAY 5, 2003

Mary Bradley:

My name is Mary Bradley. Today is May 5, 2003, here at Northeast Park Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana. And I am here with war veteran Kenneth F. Gibson, who was born November 21st, 1928. He currently lives in Evansville, Indiana. He was in the Korean War with -- the branch of service is the Marine Corps. His highest rank was sergeant. And he is custodian at Northeast Park Baptist Church.

(The interview was transcribed and processed by Tracy D. Greene.)

Mary Bradley:

My first question is, were you drafted, or did you enlist?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I enlisted.

Mary Bradley:

What made you decide to enlist?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, I had some old friends were -- had already enlisted, and they encouraged me to do so. And I thought it was a patriotic thing to do.

Mary Bradley:

Where were you living at the time?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

At 2722 West Virginia Street, Evansville.

Mary Bradley:

Why did you pick the service branch that you joined?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

The Marine Corps had always been my favorite branch of the service. I thought they were tough.

Mary Bradley:

And so what did you do? What was your responsibility as part of the Marine Corps?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Basically, I trained as an infantryman.

Mary Bradley:

And what does that mean?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

That means that you are kind of a land fighter.

Everything you do is on the ground.

Mary Bradley:

Do you recall your first days in the service?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Oh, yes.

Mary Bradley:

What did it feel like?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Terrible. You thought you were a nothing,

absolutely nothing going into the boot training. Just you took orders; you obeyed orders without question.

Mary Bradley:

A lot of discipline?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

A lot of discipline, yes. For about three months of basic training.

Mary Bradley:

So can you tell me some of your experiences at, like, boot camp or the training experience, any stories or anything like that?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Oh, in basic training at Perris Island,

California, it was kind of a hot, muggy place. It was a good camp, but -- and it was a tough camp. And we didn't have too much leisure time those first three months. Everything was required. You did exactly what you were told.

Mary Bradley:

Do you remember any of your instructors?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

After all these years, I've forgotten his name.

Basically, the one drill sergeant that I liked -- and I can't remember his name after all these years. He was a good man.

He was a tough man.

Mary Bradley:

Respectable?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Very respectable. And we had some duds, but basically they were all good Marine Corps people.

Mary Bradley:

Through all the hard and difficult training that

you had to go through, how did you make it through and why did you stick with it?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, I suppose you might say I wanted to be a good marine. And even though the training was tough, I endured. And I wouldn't take any experience -- take anything from my experiences. And I lived through it.

Mary Bradley:

For the record, which war did you serve in?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Korean. They call it campaign, but for those who served there, it was war.

Mary Bradley:

Where exactly did you go?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

From -- in Korea?

Mary Bradley:

Yeah.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

We were confined to South Korea. I got there after they had already crossed the 38th Parallel, went up to the Manchurian border, and then we -- that's when the Chinese came into the war. And we withdrew our units -- withdrew all the way down to Pusan before we were reorganized and fought or way back to the 38th Parallel where the war came to a final conclusion.

Mary Bradley:

Do you remember, like, the first, like, thing when you got over there -- the first, like, thing you saw upon arriving or, like, your experience

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I thought it was a devastated place. And Korean civilians who had gone to as far south as they could, too, to escape the battle area, and they were living in a mess just like any other war-torn country.

Mary Bradley:

So you saw the combat then?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Oh, yes.

Mary Bradley:

You were part of it?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I was part of it.

Mary Bradley:

Were there a lot of casualties in your unit?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Yes. In my particular unit, E Company, well, EZ

Company, I had the small artillery platoon. And I had 29 men in the platoon. And unfortunately, lost about two-thirds of those men wounded and killed.

Mary Bradley:

Must have been a very emotional time.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

It was. Of course, battle front is a terrible situation to begin with. And we fought our basic battle on Hill 739. I think it was Hill 739. And EZ Company was just all both wiped out at that point. We had so much Chinese and North Korean soldiers against us that we were almost wiped out. We did not retreat. We stayed. And we were replaced at one time with another marine company and went back and rebuilt, got more men, went at it again.

Mary Bradley:

I think it's very admirable that you didn't retreat. And we have been studying in history about the American Revolution and so forth and like the first black infantries. And we watched a movie about how they wouldn't retreat. I just -- you see all these white people who founded our nation, but they weren't retreating because they were so scared. And I can't imagine at all what it would be like to just even see that. It is such a horrific experience. Really hard sometimes. I know, a lot of people don't like to talk about it.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Sometimes it is hard to talk about those experiences, especially when you see men whom you've been friends with for a year or so already when they are wounded or get killed. It is a little rough.

Mary Bradley:

Do you have, like, a lot of family members that were in your same, like, unit or who joined maybe at the same time as you?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

No. None of my family had service in the Marine Corps. My brothers were all in the Navy. They had a soft bed every night.

Mary Bradley:

So how did you stay in touch? Were you able to stay in contact with your brothers in the Navy and your family

back here at home?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, basically, just the mail service. We sent our -- when we were, you know, positioned where we could, we wrote letters and sent them home. And so we stayed in communication with them that way.

Mary Bradley:

Was there a lot -- like a lot of time in between the time that you sent your letters from over there in Korea for them to get home and overseas? I know, like, today it is just pretty much in weeks we get the mail. But back then?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

It was about the same. Mail service had progressed to the point where you could pretty well depend on mail going through and getting home at a decent time. Just a little bit different receiving your mail in a war zone because they weren't always able to get to the front lines with the mail bag.

Mary Bradley:

You are constantly on the go, too.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Yes, moving all the time.

Mary Bradley:

So were there -- like, you were in a specific unit. How did you stay in contact with people from other divisions of the Marines?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, communication between the different companies in the division was usually done by the superior

officers, and of course they had radio communication. And basically radio communication was how they kept in touch with.

Mary Bradley:

What was the food like?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, I don't know whether you've ever eaten out of cans or not, but that is -- in the forward areas, front lines, that is what it was. You opened a can. And if you had heat, you heated it. But if you didn't, you ate it just as it came out of the can. It is already prepared food ready to eat. But always tasted better when you could heat it.

Mary Bradley:

Were you more oftentimes finding that you couldn't heat it up or that you could?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Most of the time, we could not heat it. You light a fire someplace, why, it kind of gives away your position on the front line. And you don't want to give away your positions.

Mary Bradley:

Did you have plenty of supplies? Did you have to worry about whether you were going to eat that night?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

We were well taken care of where supplies were concerned. They didn't stick us out there and leave us. We always knew that we were going to have food to eat and replacement clothing, so we managed to get those things.

Mary Bradley:

Being on the front line, did you feel a lot of

pressure or stress as far as just in general or for a specific cause?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, we all knew that we were there for a purpose, and that was to keep Communists from taking over South Korea, and that was our objective to keep South Korea.

And most everybody wanted to do that, no questions asked. It was a duty that we had to perform. And we did.

Mary Bradley:

Was there anything special that you did for good luck, so to speak, or to help you through the day?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

For good luck? Well, no. Basically, we -- those of us who believed in God, we relied upon God to take care of us, and we kept our hopes high. And, you know, most of us came through, but a lot of our men didn't. And as far as I'm concerned, they died heroes. They served their country and served a purpose. They kept South Korea free.

Mary Bradley:

You mentioned that you didn't have, like, a lot of leisure time, but when you did have leisure time, what did you like to do? Were you able to get out and experience some of Korea while you were over there?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

No. We didn't have that kind of leisure in Korea.

Now, of course, in basic training and advanced training in the US, why, we were able to get out. Not during our basic

training. Like Perris Island. We didn't have any time to ourselves there at all. But advanced training at Camp Pendleton, California, we were able to get out and see the sites of California. But in Korea, no place to go.

Everything was bombed out, shelled out, and you didn't do much with the local civilians because you didn't know who you could trust.

Mary Bradley:

Do you recall any particular humorous or unusual event that occurred while you were over there?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Humorous. Oh, I suppose there were sometimes when something seemed funny to you, but at that particular time there, there wasn't much funny -- anything funny about the whole situation. It was just all in the line of duty.

Mary Bradley:

We are very grateful for that. I'm not really familiar a lot with the war in Korea. I know, like, with World War II, they did a lot of training where it is very heavy and hard at night and like around the clock. In Korea was it, like, continuous battle, or how did that system work?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

It was basically continuous battle. But there were times when the enemy had to fall back and regroup, also, because their losses were tremendous, the North Koreans and Chinese. Their losses were tremendous. And I don't know why

-- what drove them to fight, but they did, and we kept them in line.

Mary Bradley:

You have stated on your biographical data that your highest rank was sergeant. How did you get that ranking?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, I began as a private, and I managed to get promotions about once every six months. And when I -- after I came back, my last days in Korea, I was promoted to sergeant.

And shortly after that, I was able to come back home. The war was over for me.

Mary Bradley:

So you remember the your last days and get to come home?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Oh, yes, that was an exciting time. You knew you were getting out of the battle area, and the good old USA looked really good.

Mary Bradley:

And where were you when your service ended? Were you still in Korea?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I came back to the US -- I think it was in June or July of 1952. And I was discharged in San Diego or Camp Pendleton as soon as -- almost as soon as I got back. They discharged me a little early because the day I came back to the US, my sister had passed away at home. And so they made special arrangements to get me home so I could be here for my

sister's funeral.

Mary Bradley:

So was the war still going on after you had been discharged?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, it had -- they had settled down on the -- along the 38th Parallel in Korea, and they were beginning to negotiate a cease fire there in P'yonggang. And so basically, the -- except for a few minor skirmishes here and there, the war was basically over.

Mary Bradley:

Right to the end.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

So we were all happy to see that. But not too many men wanted to stop at the 38th Parallel. Probably it would have been better if we hadn't, if we had gone up and taken North Korea, too. We wouldn't have communism over there this day if we had. We almost felt like our job wasn't complete. But the war had ended and casualties ceased. We didn't lose any more US men.

Mary Bradley:

You mentioned the death of your sister, and I just want to touch on this a little bit because I know how hard it is to lose someone in your family, especially at such a young age. Did it have anything to do with the war?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

No, no. She was -- she had had a child with her husband. And, well, she had just given birth, and then she

had a rare blood disease she didn't know that she had. And the effect of the pregnancy killed her.

Mary Bradley:

Hard time to come from and to go home to?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Oh, yes. It wasn't a real joyous homecoming, but things happen to everybody. But I still wouldn't take all -- anything from my time in the service; the events, the episodes I went through. And it's a great experience. I wouldn't want to have to repeat it, but I'm glad I got to go through it.

Mary Bradley:

Do you recommend it for others?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Certainly. I've always been a patriotic American, and I think our country is worth fighting for and protecting.

Mary Bradley:

Very. Here in America, we have a lot of freedoms that they don't have over there.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Absolutely.

Mary Bradley:

And some of those may just be what we watch on TV or whatever. So what did you do when you returned, like, during your free time, or did you go back to school?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Well, two things. I had a job waiting for me at International Harvester when they were here. And then I did take advantage of a Bill of Rights and got a couple years of college. And so everything worked out just fine for me when I come back home. And everything was just great

Mary Bradley:

When you -- before you went over, had you already started a family?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I was married when I went over. And we didn't start our family until after I was discharged.

Mary Bradley:

You have mentioned some of the relationships that you made and how hard it was to lose many of your fellow soldiers. Do you have -- have you continued some of the relationships that you've had with some of the people who survived?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Most of the men that I served with and had under my command was far flung places in the United States;

California, Texas, one up in Wisconsin, the boy that I held in my arms while he died. Of course, communication with him was ended, but the others I haven't kept up with over the years.

A lot of men do have reunions with their war buddies. I've never had that opportunity. And, of course, everybody went back home and started their lives over again, civilian life.

And we just lost communication.

Mary Bradley:

Everyone went their separate ways. Did you or are you a member of a veteran organization today?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

No. I've had opportunities to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but I never did. I just got occupied in my

church and in my job and haven't had time for anything else.

Mary Bradley:

Did your military experiences influence your thinking about war about the military in general?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Influence?

Mary Bradley:

Yeah, like, you were -- I can just see from your facial expressions and your comments that you are really patriotic in support of the war before you went. And even when you have come home and you really enjoy being a part of the United States. But any aspect of, like, your opinion about how the government handles things or any of their military approaches to things that --

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I think that we have probably done some -- made some mistakes militarily in the last few years, but we can't just sit back and watch the rest of the world go to pieces and not do anything about it. And it is just like anything. I always make mistakes. But you try to learn from mistakes and do better. And our government -- I think our government has really done a good job of being a protector of the rest of the world almost, it seems like. But it's just something that has to be done. Otherwise, we have been fortunate in that our wars have all been fought on foreign soil. You could imagine what would happen in this country if we had to start fighting

on American soil. They went through that during the Civil War. And we don't want it to happen again.

Mary Bradley:

Definitely not. I don't want to, anyway. How do you feel about what occurred on September 11th and how we have approached that militarily?

Kenneth F. Gibson:

I am solidly behind our president and the things that have happened since September 11th. That was totally uncalled for. It was cowardly. And I wish there would have been some way to know what these people were plotting so it could have been stopped, but one of those things where you never know what somebody else is going to do.

Mary Bradley:

Very tragic losing all these lives.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Absolutely.

Mary Bradley:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't covered in this interview or any interesting facts or comments, stories? They are all wanted and loved, and we want to learn from our veterans as much as we can so that when we go --

Kenneth F. Gibson:

We have had a lot of men in this country who fought and a lot of them died and a lot of them still live.

And most of us men would do it all over again if they had to.

Of course, nobody wants war. And hate war. But it has to be

done. It has to be done. Otherwise, we would lose our freedom if we are not willing to stand up for our freedoms.

And I wish every person in the United States felt that way.

We would be a much stronger country than we are right now if everybody felt that it was necessary to protect this country.

Mary Bradley:

Well, I don't have any more questions, but thank you for your time. And I really enjoyed doing this. And I hope --

Kenneth F. Gibson:

My pleasure, Mary.

Mary Bradley:

Well, I really appreciate it. And not only helps my grade, but it is definitely going down in history. And I appreciate your fighting for freedom because if I didn't have that today, I don't really know where I would be because I'm very patriotic myself.

Kenneth F. Gibson:

Good.

Mary Bradley:

Thank you.

 
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