|Eric Gunnison Gibson|
|Information taken from Rice Lake
Volume 125, Issue 8: Wednesday, October 20, 1999
|Service Saturday for WWII war hero|
The headstone of white marble, engraved with gold lettering, will be unveiled to honor Eric Gunnar [?] Gibson, who received America's highest award for battlefield bravery. Gibson was a WWII company cook who died in battle at the Anzio landing. His parents lived east of the city.
The event, spearheaded by the American Legion, is being put on as a cooperative effort by all local veterans groups. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.
Expected guests at the service include American Legion First Vice Commander of the State of Wisconsin, Don Jacobson of Cumberland, Barron County Commander Matt Hanson of Turtle Lake, and members of the 3rd Division of WWII, Bill Bartes of Haugen, Lester Knutson of Cumberland, and John Baumgart of Hayward.
Guest of honor will be WWII Medal of Honor recipient Einar Ingman of Irma.
Alderman Bob Heffner will read the mayor's proclamation, noting the day as Eric Gibson Remembrance Day, and Melvin Bjugstad of Rice Lake will sing This Tattered Old Flag.
THE MAKING OF A HERO
On January 22,1944, American and British forces landed on the Italian coast near Anzio, 30 miles southwest of Rome. They faced an entrenched German army that was committed to driving the Allies back into the sea.
Gibson, a native of Nysun, Sweden, was raised in Chicago and enlisted in the Army in 1941. He served with Company I, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. In the North African invasion, his ship was torpedoed, but he swam ashore. He served as a cook throughout the African Campaign and in Sicily.
At the Anzio beachhead, he asked his company commander for permission to land as a rifleman, not as a cook. He was given permission, as long as the company was in action.
Six days after the Anzio landing, under enemy artillery, machine gun, and rifle fire, the 24-year-old soldier led a group of green replacements down a river ravine. During the action, he destroyed four enemy positions, killed five Germans, captured two more, and secured the left flank of his company.
The narrative of his award nomination says that he advanced down a wide stream ditch, while placing himself 50 yards in front of his new men. An enemy soldier allowed Gibson to come within 20 yards of his hidden position; then opened fire on him with a machine pistol. Despite the stream of automatic weapon fire, Gibson charged the position, firing his submachine gun every few steps. Reaching the enemy position, Gibson fired point blank at his opponent, killing him.
During the fighting, an artillery concentration fell in, and around, the ditch. The concussion from one shell knocked Gibson flat. As he got to his feet, Gibson was fired on by two soldiers armed with machine pistols and rifles. They were 75 yards away. Gibson immediately raced toward the foe. Halfway to the position, a machine gun opened fire on him. Although bullets came within inches of his body, he never paused in his forward movement. He killed one soldier and captured the other.
Shortly after, he was fired on by a heavy machine gun 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 enemy emplacement. Despite all warnings, Gibson crawled 125 yards through an artillery concentration and the crossfire of two machine guns. He threw two hand grenades into the emplacement and charged it with his submachine gun, killing two enemy soldiers 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 leader went forward to find that its leader had run 35 yards toward an outpost, killing the machine pistol man, and himself being killed while firing at the Germans.
Before being killed himself, Gibson had destroyed four enemy positions, killed five enemy soldiers, and captured two more.
GUNNAR WON'T BE HERE
In September 1944, just weeks after moving to Rice Lake, they traveled to Fort McCoy to receive the Medal of Honor that was awarded posthumously to their son.
The medal was awarded for "gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty."
Twenty-two Medals of Honor were awarded from the Anzio Campaign, more than any other battle in history. During the fight, from January to May, Allied losses totaled 4,400 killed, 17,500 wounded, and 6,800 missing in action. The German 14th Army, which attempted to hold the Italian Front, had 5,500 killed, 17,500 wounded, and 4,500 taken prisoner.
A Chronotype story, however, reports that a mother's pride in receiving the honor was eclipsed by her grief.
"Gunnar," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "Gunnar won't be here to get it."
Neither will he, nor any known relatives, be at Saturday's memorial service, but his heroic acts live on in the memory of fellow veterans and are documented in reports in the National Archives, Medal of Honor Society and on the Internet at http: www. seabeecook.com/cooks/army/ gibson.htm
This weekend, another chapter of his life will be written, an honorable sequel to a life courageously lived.
Contributed by Harold (Diz) Kronenberg
In the early days of 1944, a Chippewa Valley man, Eric Gunnison Gibson, performed the heroic actions that would bring him the nation's highest military award--the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In January of that year, while serving as the company cook, Corporal Gibson of rural Rice Lake led some recruits against the attacking Germans near Isola Bella, a town near the Anzio Beachhead in Italy.
Proceeding in front of his recruits, he killed five Germans and captured two, all of whom were firing at him from a machine gun nest. In this way, he secured the left flank of his company, but he was killed soon afterward, still defiantly firing at the Germans.
Gibson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.
He is buried in the Rice Lake cemetery.