HARTFORD — A decorated U.S. Army veteran, who was killed in the Korean War, will forever be memorialized following a ceremony Saturday that named a bridge in his honor.
The bridge across Sliding Creek in Hartford was dedicated as the “U.S. Army Corporal John L. Gibbs Memorial Bridge,” before hundreds of local residents and relatives in attendance. West Virginia Delegates Jim Butler and Scott Cadle, both members of the House of Delegates Veterans Committee, spoke and were instrumental in accomplishing the project.
PFC Gibbs was killed in the Korean Demilitarized Zone on July 21, 1967. He, along with two others killed that day, was serving with the 2nd Battalion 23rd Infantry Battalion 2nd Infantry Division. Gibbs was in a foxhole south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone when his position was suddenly attacked by North Korean infiltrators under the cover of dense fog and darkness. A furious fire fight erupted and Gibbs and the two other soldiers were killed.
On July 15, 1967, PFC Gibbs was posthumously promoted to the grade of corporal. He was awarded the Purple Heart on Aug. 10, 1967, for wounds received in action in Korea resulting in his death.
Gibbs was one of 12 children born to the late Charles and Sadie “Louise” Gibbs of Hartford. Most of the living siblings attended the ceremony, and were presented citations from the West Virginia Legislature by Delegates Butler and Cadle.
Donna Neece, the youngest sibling of the family, had just turned 16 years old when her brother was killed. Neece said she was “very, very proud and very, very honored” by Saturday’s service, but solemnly added she wished her parents were alive to see it. Other living siblings of Gibbs’ include sisters Virginia Patterson and Brenda Warth, and brothers Hubert, Garry, Garland and Denver Gibbs.
Dennis Kimes, who grew up with Gibbs and was a first cousin, helped organize the ceremony. He said it was fitting to name that bridge after Gibbs because he and Gibbs were the first to cross it when they were just kids.
“We were the first to cross the bridge on our bikes when just the reinforcement was down,” Kimes said. “Then we hid our bikes for two months because we were afraid the law would come after us.”
Kimes also recalled his last conversation with Gibbs. Both were home on leave before being sent oversees.
“Johnny told me he was lucky because I was being sent to Vietnam and he was being sent to Korea,” Kimes stated. “But then fate stepped in …”
Cadle reminded those attending that all veterans should receive our appreciation.
“When we go by here and see his name (on the bridge), don’t just think about him, but the thousands of soldiers killed in battle,” he said. “But today is his day.”
Butler, a Marine Corps veteran, opened the ceremony, with Hartford Mayor Sam Anderson giving the opening prayer. Members of the Stewart-Johnson V.F.W. Post 9926 presented the colors and gave a gun salute to honor Gibbs.
Also recognized were members of the New Haven Fire Department, who cleaned the bridge prior to the ceremony; and Sgt. Larry Roush, of New Haven, and Lt. Martin Williams, a tank commander, both of whom served on the DMZ in Korea and gave insight into what the situation was like.