Service, Sacrifice

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rick Gibbs
  • 509th Maintenance Squadron Commander
My dad served in the U.S. Air Force during and after Vietnam. My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II, each of them had some amazing stories of what they had done to serve our nation.

My dad was a weapons system operator on F-111s and F-4s. As a kid, I had read many of my dad's decorations and medals. Some hung on the wall, but not all of them. They involved taking the fight to the enemy, clearing the way for others, getting shot at ... a lot, and going back for more.

We lived in the Philippines while his squadron routinely deployed closer to Vietnam taking the fight to the enemy. I don't recall much from this time, as I was very young. I've heard a lot of stories about the lighter side of life: Friday nights at the bar, shopping in nearby countries, tales of us kids growing up in the Philippines. I never really heard about what was written in those citations. As I grew older, I came to know my dad had lost friends from his squadron and had known guys who became prisoners of war.

I knew my grandfather as a tough, New York City FBI agent who had no problem letting anyone know what he thought. He had been a cop in New York City for several years prior to joining the FBI. Before that, he'd been in the Navy. I knew he had been in the Atlantic, as well as the Pacific. I heard stories about him marrying my grandmother right before heading off to the war. I heard interesting tales about the various schools he had to go through. I learned all about Pearl Harbor and heard lots about the Japanese and Germans and WWII in general, but I never really knew what my grandfather had done during the war.

I gradually learned of the sacrifices my dad and the others in his squadron had made, but he made it very clear for me during his retirement ceremony. Before they left the U.S., for the Philippines, my dad's squadron put together their Christmas card for 1971. It listed all the guys in the squadron at the time. He updated the list with new guy names at the end of 1972. There were a lot of guys on that list. At his retirement ceremony, my dad read the names of those who had been shot down and were killed in combat, were missing in action, or had become POWs. He read them one by one, with reverence. It took a while to get through nearly 30 names. I had no idea how many friends he had lost.

A few years before my grandfather died, we were visiting him in N.Y. We shared a few drinks, and I told him about my short time in the Air Force. I had been stationed in Japan and had recently deployed to Saudi Arabia. I guess, he figured that qualified me to hear his stories. We talked late into the night about what he did during WWII. The most amazing story was that he was a captain for one of the landing craft at Omaha beach on D-Day. The movie "Private Ryan" looked pretty accurate from what he had described to me. He had to make the trip eight times. Almost as amazing, was his time in the Pacific where he was a gunnery officer off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, leading his gunnery crew in fighting off Kamikazi attacks. He, too, lost many friends throughout the war.

Over the years, I've been asked periodically why I joined the AF. There was no one particular reason, but several. I liked the AF Family and the way of life I had come to know. I enjoyed the leadership opportunities I had experienced while in ROTC. Airplanes are just plain cool. And, I was compelled to serve. I'm proud of my dad and my grandfather's service to our nation. I'm honored to have had the opportunity to serve, especially when I think of those Americans who gave their lives for our nation.

I recently read a book about service and sacrifice, "American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day." Bud Day was a man with an amazing story who did a tremendous job for our nation. He flew critical combat missions in Vietnam and established the fast FAC or Misty FAC mission. He was later shot down and captured. He escaped and was eventually recaptured before being sent to the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He continued to serve, even while a prisoner, undergoing years of regular torture while leading and taking care of his men.

As I learn more of great American's like Bud Day, my dad, my grandfather; and our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines currently in harm's way - I feel humbled, privileged and honored to serve my nation.

If you don't know someone close to you who has served in combat and shared their story with you, take some time to sit down and read about Bud Day. It may give you some new perspective on why you chose to serve and why we need you to continue to serve.