Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TFH 1/28: Technician 5th Grade Eric G. Gibson, USA

Eric Gunnar Gibson was born in Nysund, Sweden on October 3, 1919. He emigrated as a child with his parents to the United States, where they settled in Chicago, Illinois. From Gibson's enlistment record, we know that he entered the United States Army on February 18, 1941. He's listed as a "selectee", so he was probably drafted. We also know that he only completed three years of high school and hadn't become a naturalized American citizen yet.

His peacetime occupation is listed as a "semiskilled meatcutter", and perhaps it was his civilian job experience that saw him placed in the Army Quartermaster Corps. Gibson was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment as a company cook. That regiment was part of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Cooks typically do not fight, unless a unit is being overrun. Having reached the rank of Technician Fifth Grade (Corporal) and caught the ear of his company commander, Gibson worked out a deal so he'd get to see action.

Gibson's deal with his CO was that so long as there wasn't food to cook, he could join along with a rifle squad and fight. Company I's leadership came to rely upon his dual-roles, and Gibson found himself also used as a trusted scout.

As the 3rd Infantry Division was preparing to land at Anzio on January 22, 1944 as part of Operation SHINGLE - the plan to outflank Nazi defenses in central Italy and open the road to Rome - Company I had several "green" replacements who'd be seeing their first action. The replacements were formed into their own squad with Gibson as their leader.

Eric Gibson's unhesitating, indomitable courage and leadership in leading his men from the front at cost of his own life was recognized with the Medal of Honor. One wonders: did the Army err by making him a cook?

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

Photo from the US Army Quartermaster Foundation

Rank and organization. Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army, 3d Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Isola Bella, Italy, 28 January 1944
Entered service at: Chicago, Ill.
G.O. No.: 74, 11 September 1944

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. On 28 January 1944, near Isola Bella, Italy, Tech. 5th Grade Gibson, company cook, led a squad of replacements through their initial baptism of fire, destroyed four enemy positions, killed 5 and captured 2 German soldiers, and secured the left flank of his company during an attack on a strongpoint. Placing himself 50 yards in front of his new men, Gibson advanced down the wide stream ditch known as the Fossa Femminamorta, keeping pace with the advance of his company. An enemy soldier allowed Tech. 5th Grade Gibson to come within 20 yards of his concealed position and then opened fire on him with a machine pistol. Despite the stream of automatic fire which barely missed him, Gibson charged the position, firing his submachine gun every few steps. Reaching the position, Gibson fired pointblank at his opponent, killing him. An artillery concentration fell in and around the ditch; the concussion from one shell knocked him flat. As he got to his feet Gibson was fired on by two soldiers armed with a machine pistol and a rifle from a position only 75 yards distant. Gibson immediately raced toward the foe. Halfway to the position a machine gun opened fire on him. Bullets came within inches of his body, yet Gibson never paused in his forward movement. He killed one and captured the other soldier. Shortly after, when he was fired upon by a heavy machinegun 200 yards down the ditch, Gibson crawled back to his squad and ordered it to lay down a base of fire while he flanked the emplacement. Despite all warning, Gibson crawled 125 yards through an artillery concentration and the cross fire of 2 machineguns which showered dirt over his body, threw 2 hand grenades into the emplacement and charged it with his submachine gun, killing 2 of the enemy and capturing a third. Before leading his men around a bend in the stream ditch, Gibson went forward alone to reconnoiter. Hearing an exchange of machine pistol and submachine gun fire, Gibson's squad went forward to find that its leader had run 35 yards toward an outpost, killed the machine pistol man, and had himself been killed while firing at the Germans.

Gibson's remains were repatriated to the United States. He was buried by his parents near their then home in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. In 1999, his grave saw its old worn marker replaced with a marble and gold-inlaid one more befitting of his status as a Medal of Honor recipient. I couldn't determine if he obtained US citizenship before he regardless earned it with his blood.

3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry is today inactive. The 3rd Infantry Division is a present-day Army component with a home station at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Gibson was inducted into the Army Quartermaster Hall of Fame in 1999.

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