Memorial Day and Remembering a Man I Never Met

     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.

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     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.

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     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.

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     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.

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32 comments on “Memorial Day and Remembering a Man I Never Met

  1. Eva Maria Martin says:

    I knew Delaney and his wife Kim well. I must say I enjoyed your sorry immensely.. Thank you for deplicating the hard live that being in the military can be at times.. Though they were a young couple just starting out they adored each other and she supported and appreciated his sacrifices of being in the military..
    I myself joined the military in 96 (Air Force) and sadly during my 18 year career I’ve looked for information on Delaney and sadly it’s been sparse..
    From me I want to say a huge thank you for such a true fact based sorry…

  2. axxman300 says:

    I went to visit him on 19 December and was happy to see fresh, flag-filled flowers on his grave. Others remember him too.

  3. Ryan Bohling says:

    I appreciate your work and thank you for keeping up with Delaney. He and I were friends. I can put you in touch with many of his friends with whom I’ve kept in touch with over the years. I live not far from his wife Kimberly, and can put you in touch with her also. I think it would be a fabulous book for you to write. That was an amazing time in all of our lives and 25 years later the memories are still very fresh. Thank you for the picture of his grave. I’ve tried many times to go visit, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not sure why. Guilt maybe, I don’t know, but perhaps someday. He resides in our hearts and memories good and bad. Our merry band of brothers.

    • Nick Hyatt says:

      Ryan i am a soldier in fort Carson i have seen that maybe yall might be doing a reunion in Colorado springs. I would love to meet you guys and hear your story’s. Delaney is my inspiration of ever joining the military. Delaney is my cousin and i was only 4 when he died. If you guys come to the springs please let me no. Thanks

      • Ryan Bohlimg says:

        Nick, I know we’ve talked about it but its been hard to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. Look me up on FB my profile pick is Delany’s headstone. It’ll be easier to keep up with. Ryan Bohling

      • Kimberly Gibbs says:

        Love you Nick, ty for doing alk you can to keep you cousins memory alive!

    • Kimberly Gibbs says:

      Love you ryan and I think several of us have the same problem visiting. I’m trying to move back to cali and that will be one of my first places to visit. That picture you alk have if his headstone is awesome!

  4. rjuebersezig says:

    Thank you for keeping Delaney’s story visible…I would like to be one of the first to purchase your book when it’s completed, and I’ll meet you in Monterey to have it signed.

  5. jim says:

    Every trooper from Charlie 4/17th would by that book and another to give away. “sgt D”

  6. Jeff says:

    I am humbled by your heartfelt words for a person you did not know. We were friends and brothers in arms. Many of us look back on those days and wonder how we did some of the things we did. Rest assured, we miss him and look forward to meeting him on the high ground.

  7. Brian Horvath says:

    Delaney was my best friend, brother in arms, and brother. We shared many great memories together that I will never forget. I was the best man at his wedding and he was supposed to be the best man at mine. I was at his house when his wife got the call, cooking dinner for her and another friend. THAT I will never forget. I think about him often and relay my sentiments to my children. I loved him like a brother!

  8. Cynthia Kim says:

    Thank you for writing this. My husband served with Delaney in Panama. My husband didn’t know Delaney personally but was deeply struck by his tragic passing…just 5 days before Christmas and with his baby daughter due just 3 months later, leaving a young wile behind to raise their child alone. My husband always wondered who would take care of this little girl….it burdened his heart constantly. Years later we started Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation (fallepatriots.org) in honor of Sgt Gibbs. Kimberly has become a dear friend to us. Thank you for doing this. I would love to buy several copies of your book. Have you met Kimberly yet? I’m sure she would love to meet you. Thank you for honoring her husband. I can’t wait to meet him one day in Heaven! He continues to inspire many. God bless you.

  9. Kimberly Gibbs says:

    Thank you so much for bringing great honor to my husband. This man was a man that anyone who knew him was blessed for he became your true friend. Not only a man of his word but a man whose laugh and personality where nothing but contagious. Definitely a man you wanted around. All who have kept his memory alive I will never be able to show the gratitude to and most importantly those who have stayed near and kept in touch with me you will never realize how important that is to me. Little Delaney, who isn’t so “little”anymore for she is now 24. Never got to know her dad as I was 6 months Pregnant with her when he gave his life. But is now at a point in life that not only a book would be a great treasure but as well as a reunion would be such a great gift to get. Not knowing her “daddy” as she calls him you all are what will bring him to life for her. Ty all for all you have done in his honor again. I can say I have great peace in knowing this wonderful man gave his life doing what he absolutely loved, serving his country and by serving his country it helped to make him an even more amazing man as well as all who touched his life. Ty and please feel free to get in touch with me. Definitely if you do write this book. (I can’t find the author of this article name, if anyone knows it can you please pass it on to me? Ty in advance)

  10. Anna (Julius) Hattauer says:

    I would love to purchase a copy of your book. I met Delaney when I was 12-years-old. We attended middle school and high school together. We also worked at Taco Bell together for awhile before he joined the Army. The last time I saw him was the first weekend after I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany. I walked into a downtown bar and his was the first face I saw. I didn’t know anyone, and it was so nice to see a familiar, friendly face. The last time I talked to him was before he PCSd to Fort Ord. I think about him often and remember him fondly.

  11. Jeff "Burgie" Moore says:

    Gibbs was my friend. And on the 25th anniversary of the invasion I found this post and watched video that we made that reminded us of him. Had to find a vcr to watch which reminded me he always use to borrow mine

  12. Troy Ingraham says:

    I knew Gibbs in West German 1985-1987, he was full of life and a Kick Ass 11 Bravo. He supplied security for my Patriot Air Defense Unit. Great guy. I think of him often. I left the service in 1989, he never did.

  13. Delaney says:

    I am little Delaney, sergeant Gibbs daughters. I have read your story several times and appreciate you remembering the man I unfortunately never knew either. I especially like to read the comments and other stories people have about my father, these are how I get to know the man behind my name and heritage so thank you to you all! And thank you axxxman for writing this and ringing all these people and their memories together.

    Sincerely,
    Delaney Gibbs

  14. Jeff Dintleman says:

    Kim,
    I do appreciate the writer trying to keep Delaney’s memory alive BUT it’s not factual and Im sorry that I point that out. I have read through all the post to include baby delaney’s and somewhat feel like the “horses A”
    Please make sure if a story is going to be told or a book written, its done right, We were there with him that night and can tell the story, or give the facts. The story needs to be told, I agree, but done right, proper pics with proper names and tell what B 4/17 actually did instead of assumptions or rumors. Sorry, and an apology to you baby Delaney, I know you never met me but your dad was a dear friend.
    This is the first time I’ve seen the write up and it disgust me that it didn’t paint the real picture or any picture for that matter of who he was or what he gave his life for. More of an accidental stumble that led to a promise of a fictional write up and self proclaimation. The facts of early morning 20 Dec1989 (H-Hour) are wrong and I sincerly hope this isnt the reflection of what the book of either Delaney or the men of B Co 4/17 will look like. I know it’s been 25 years since we seen each other after we got back, but trust me, I would love nothing more to say this is a great write up, but I loved Delaney too much to let it go as such.

  15. Steve Foster says:

    Steve Foster: I appreciate your story about Delaney, and I would love to see a book about Him. As Jeff Dintlemen said, if you do the book, please get everything right, for he deserves that. The fact that there are so many people saying they were Delaney’s best friend, probably speaks more to how he made his friends feel, than deception. You see, who ever was with him, felt like they were his best friend. He was one of those special people who made you feel, important, and cared for. Having said that, Delaney was one of my best friends, at least for the last few months of his life. We trained, played and partied together and grew very close, especially while we were in Panama. You see, we weren’t in any convoy heading to Panama in Dec. that year, we had been in Panama since September or October. We had attended Jungle Expert School, prior to the invasion, and had stayed after the school, preparing for the operation: Even though we didn’t know that’s what we were doing. During those months Delaney and I worked out every night. When they shut down the gym, we developed a workout programm using only a broomstick, by pushing and pulling against each other. We had talked about creating and selling this program.. lol We literally spent every free moment together, along with, Steve Evers, Francisco Mercado, Jeff Dintleman, Jim Kuzinski, and a few other guys. Delaney was anticipating becoming a dad, and we talked constantly about becoming a father. He was so excited. I had a little boy named Tyler and he had endless questions about being a dad. That was the most important thing in the world to him. That and Kim, his beautiful, wife. He would have been such a wonderful husband and dad. One of the hardest things I ever done, was seeing Kim for the first time when we got back. I felt I had let her and little Delaney down. I still feel this way, and I guess I always will. Kim was so strong, and such a great person, it breaks my heart to know the pain she and little Delaney has suffered for so long. Life can be so unfair.
    One story that I think you should know because this is what I think is the most important of all. I often read the Bible when we had down time, in the barracks and when I found verses that stood out to me, in an infantry kind of way, I would read them out loud, to my friends. Delaney, often would get up and come over and ask something like: Is that really in there ? or he would laugh with me, since the verses I shared were often something such as Proverbs 21:19,” It is better to live in a desert, than with a quarrelsome and fretful wife”, I remember us laughing at that, because my wife at the time fit the description, and I could relate.. I also talked to Delaney about Christ when we were working out. Now please, understand, I was, and still am, about as far from being a saint as one could get, and he knew it, so I suppose it didn’t seem like I was being “preachy’ to him. What ever the reason, I saw him reading the Bible often in those days leading up to the invasion. When we were heading out to the operation that night, Delaney had come back and got in the truck with me and my squad. It was kind of strange, because he was a team leader and knew he had to be with his guys, but I felt like he wanted to talk to me about something important, but he didn’t have time as we were heading out and his squad leader came and got him. You must understand this was totally out of character, because Delaney was a great, Soldier and leader. After we got back to Ord, I later talked with the soldier that was kneeling beside him when they both were shot, and he said as they were going in, Delaney asked him if he knew how to accept Christ. He said yes and together they said a prayer and he accepted Christ as his Savior. He was gone 10 minutes later. To me is the most important part of the story, because, for this, I know I will see him again. I don’t have to hope, or guess, I KNOW ! For this I am beyond thankful. God knew Delaney was a wonderful person and he called him to him, literally moments before he died.
    This is the first time I have spoken of all this in 25 years, except to Kim, and some of my closest friends. I just thought you should know, Delaney was, he was a wonderful person, good friend, and great soldier. I am proud, and better for having known him, and I look forward to our future reunion..

  16. Tracie Young says:

    My husband was stationed with Delaney in Fort Ord. The last time I went to visit his stone was when I was visiting my mom back in 2005. He was a great guy with a beautiful wife and child on the way. He died way too young.

  17. Tracie Young says:

    My husband was stationed in Fort Ord with him. He was a great guy with a beautiful wife and a child on the way. Last time I went to visit his grave was in 2005 when I was in Cali visiting my mom. His passing was way too soon.

  18. maxfuson says:

    I was stationed with SGT Gibbs in Hanau, West Germany, from 86-88 in a Patriot Missile Battalion (Bravo Battery 2nd Battalion 43rd Air Defense Artillery). He was a great soldier and person! Always a smile or a laugh…never a bad word to say about anything or anybody! A very optimistic soldier…
    If memory serves me correctly, he smoked Marlboro Reds and could run 2 miles in 13:00 minutes or less and always scored a 300 (max) on his PT Tests!
    Before he PCS’d to from West Germany to Fort Ord, California (must’ve been late 1987?) all of us that ran around with each other went to the local Enlisted Men’s Club on Pioneer Kaserne for a night out. We drank, smoked, and sang to our hearts content that night. The music was loud and we were all happy that night. Gibbs was exceptionally happy, too. A song came on by Motley Crue: “Home Sweet Home”. We all sang it with and to Gibbs that night. Later he PCS’d and I never saw him again….
    In late 1989 I was reading a Soldiers magazine. This is where I found out that Gibbs was listed as KIA. Later we started to here stories of Panama and details of his death.
    I miss his smile, laugh, and attitude

  19. Mike Palmer says:

    I was in Charlie/4-17 INF with Gibbs and some of the others who have posted here. He was always such a great guy; you could be having the worst day and, if he walked into the room, your day suddenly got better!
    I didn’t know him really well, but I remember a great Soldier who loved to work out and party when the time was right. He taught me a lot about the M60 machine gun (we were both Gunners at one point).
    He always seemed to have a smile on his face and a zest for life.
    I had just started to eat an MRE the morning of 20 December 1989 and I was sitting next to one of our platoon RTOs, Jimmy Davis, who was monitoring the 0700 hours SITREP as each element of our Task Force checked in to report their status. Davis suddenly got a sick look on his face, lowered the hand mike, and told us the news. I felt as though someone had kicked me in the stomach and I felt 100 years old.
    A day or two later several of us crowded around a TV to get some news and they scrolled the casualties we had suffered to that moment. We all just groaned or cursed when his name came on the screen.
    We returned to Fort Ord about a month later and I still remember taking Kim by the hand and trying to tell her how sorry I was; the words just were not there. She understood.
    I still have the little American Flag we were all given as we exited the chapel following his Memorial service. It has gone with me to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
    I post the photo of his headstone on my desktop at work “that week” each December and each Memorial Day (it is on my screen as I type this) and my coworkers will ask and I will tell his story.
    Is there a book? I haven’t seen an answer, just mention of one pending. I would love to buy it.
    Thank you for creating this!
    Sergeant First Class (Retired) Mike Palmer

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