I’ve thought about what I was going to say in this post, but in the end I think the way to go is to be direct. Memorial Day is not about military veterans, but about remembering those who died in the line of duty. If Americans actually honored this holiday we would be a better country worthy of the sacrifice of the fallen men and women, but sadly we have allowed this day to become diluted as just the start of the summer season. I believe that forgetting about our war and military dead makes it easier for us as a nation to go to war, and on a personal level I think it is a lost opportunity to re-evaluate our lives to make ourselves better people, and citizens. So I remember William Delaney Gibbs of Modesto, California; a man I never met, who was killed on the first night of the U.S. invasion of Panama on 19, December, 1989.
I found Sgt. Gibbs’ grave one sunny Memorial Day in 2006, and I promised him that I would do what it took to tell his story. That promise led me back to college (located across the street from where his grave is located) and while my major is Marine Geology my love of writing has pushed me through a string of writing and literature classes. Each Memorial Day I return to his grave as reaffirm my promise. Now that I have two novels and 300 short stories under my belt I returned to his resting place and gave him an update. I told him that I would spend the summer researching, and would begin writing the book in the fall.
Finding William Delaney Gibbs’ grave helped me find my way out of a depression caused by injury and job loss. I keep his picture in a file found on all of my computers to remind me to keep pushing. I was born in 1964, and Gibbs was born in 1967. I think back to whom I was in 1989, and who he must have been. He joined the Army in 1984 at a time when there was little reason to join. He didn’t want to go to college, and found working a Joe-Job at Taco Bell to be a crummy way to make a living. The Army was a way out. He joined at a time when the Army was casting off the chains of Vietnam. All of his senior officers and NCOs were Vietnam veterans. The 7th ID(L) was the first unit to embrace light infantry as a serious, rapid deployment force trained to fight anywhere in the world. The Army raised the bar for personal performance standards and dared men like Gibbs to meet them. He did, they did, and they pushed beyond the Army’s standard to shape their own.
I can’t imagine dragging my ass out of bed at 05:00 for calisthenics and a five-mile run. The endless hour marching under seventy and eighty pounds of gear, and the long nights spent freezing my ass off in the dark waiting on an ambush. I remember the soldiers when they were here. They would pile into the bars and night clubs looking for women, and drink and dance the night away until they dropped , puked, scored, or a combination of all three. They also liked to fight. Lightfighters fought each other, and fought anyone who would look at them cross-eyed.
On the night of the invasion I was driving home from work and came up behind a convoy of military trucks loaded with men in full combat gear. They were headed to Travis AFB, and then to Panama. I couldn’t imagine what was going through their heads. The fear, the excitement, the frustration of deploying a few days before Christmas must have been beyond the pale, and in a few hours after I passed that convoy on the highway I was asleep in bed. William Delaney Gibbs walked in front of an MP’s Humvee and was shot in the neck. When the sun came up the next day his body was in a black bag at Howard AFB in Panama.
I don’t write for Sgt. Gibbs. I write for myself, but my hope is that one day my book about the men of the 7th Infantry Division will help shape opinions about sending men into combat, and how we do that in a way that doesn’t get men killed without cause. So if it means anything, William Delaney Gibbs will live on in spirit in my writing. My other hope is that Sgt. Gibbs has found peace wherever he is now. Someday peace will be the normal again.