Florida Inducts Six Veterans into New Hall of Fame

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

The late, former Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He parachuted into Europe on D-Day and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day,’” Gibbons wrote in his World War II memoir I Was There.

Gibbons passed away peacefully in his sleep last year at age 92.

This week, Gibbons was posthumously inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. His son was there to accept the honor bestowed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In all, six Floridians were welcomed into the first class of the new Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. They were given Hall of Fame Medals and Certificates.

1.            John R. D. Cleland, Major General (Retired), U.S. Army (Melbourne)

2.            The late US Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, former U.S. Army Major (Tampa) – represented by his son, Clifford Sam Gibbons

3.            John L. Haynes, Major (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Monticello)

4.            Robert F. Milligan, Lieutenant General (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Tallahassee)

5.            Jeanne Grushinski Rubin, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Sunrise)

6.            Robert J. Silah, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Tampa)

The Veterans Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the state of Florida after their military service.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Fred Karl from the Battle of the Bulge to a Life of Service

KIC Image 0006The Tampa Bay area has lost another of its World War II veterans and heroes – a tank commander who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

In addition to his distinguished military service which earned him a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star, Fred Karl worked at almost every level of state government from the Florida Supreme Court to Tampa City Attorney.

Karl will be remembered for many things. But he said World War II shaped him and taught him leadership.

He was a student at the University of Florida at the start of World War II. Karl enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant while still 18 years old.

Karl commanded a platoon of five tanks – 25 men all older than him – at the Battle of the Bulge. They were part of the 2nd Armored Division.

“We got set up for Christmas Eve.” Karl reminisced in 2008. “It was really a bittersweet time. I remember early Christmases at home, the smell of incense and pine trees, but I was terrified about the attack the next day. On Christmas day 1944, we attacked the Germans and cut the point off.”

Karl said his division captured the 2nd Panzer Division in the woods. Then, they were told to flank the bulge and drive south to meet Gen. George Patton’s tanks and relieve Bastogne.

“About the third day of fighting, I mean big, wicked fighting really a lot of resistance, my company commander was lost. He got blown up in a tank,” Karl said. “And then the next day, I was hit with a piece of shrapnel in my arm and my chest and went back to England. So, I missed everything from Jan. 5th.”

But he made it back with his troops in time to join the triumphant entry into Berlin. Continue reading

Charles Durning: How the Military Shaped His Life

English: American actor Charles Durning on May...

English: American actor Charles Durning on May 25, 2008 at the 2008 National Memorial Day Concert in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will always remember Charles Durning for his role as Ernie Yost in an NCIS episode where he portrayed a WWII veteran and Medal of Honor recipient. The role earned Durning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series 2005.

Druning died Monday at age 89. In “real life” he was a WWII veteran who served with distinction according to the LA Times.

… Durning was in the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day Normandy invasion in 1944. He was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge and reportedly was one of the few survivors of the massacre of American POWs at Malmedy, Belgium.

For his service, he was awarded three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.

Continue reading

WWII Veteran of D-Day and Battle of the Bulge Passes

Former Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, serving in Europe on D-Day and during the Battle of the Bulge. Photo courtesy of WUSF Public Broadcasting

Sam Gibbons at age 92 died peacefully in his sleep Tuesday his son told the Tampa Bay Times.

The Tampa native was 24 the night before D-Day when he dropped into German-occupied France as a young captain of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles.”

In Gibbons’ memoir I Was There – he describes his experiences in WWII. It is peppered with details like how he replaced his gas mask with two cans of Schlitz beer before the D-Day drop.

“So with all this gear on me (the same for about 12,000 others), I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day.’”

The story of how the paratroopers were dropped off course and scattered across the French countryside is widely known. Gibbons and a few other paratroopers managed to pull together and planned an attack on a nearby town.

“At the end of this council I brought out my two cans of beer, which we shared,” Gibbons wrote. “When the cans were empty we decided to leave them in the middle of the road as a monument to the first cans of Schlitz consumed in France and moved on.”

Sometime in the evening of June 5, 1944, a “stick” of heavily loaded 101st Airborne paratroopers board their C-47 transport before their jump into history in the skies of Normandy. Capt. Sam Gibbons of the 501st carried a couple of additional non-issue items along with him. National Archives photo

Chuck Oldham of Defense Media Network wrote that Gibbons’ story of the Allied landing in Normandy has always stuck with him:

Of all those stories … Gibbons’ story, written in a self-deprecating tone as it was in I Was There and popularized in Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, remains one that has always struck me as somehow being indicative of the American paratroopers’ fight during that early morning of June 6, 1944, with a young captain abruptly thrust into an unexpected leadership role, he and his men dropped far from their objectives, lost and improvising their way through a night of combat,  and ‘marching toward the sound of gunfire.’

The young captain was with the 101st as it helped hold Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” facility.

When Gibbons returned to Tampa, he went to law school, served as a state lawmaker and then for 16 terms in the U.S. Congress. President Bill Clinton named Cong. Gibbons general chairman of the 50th Anniversary of Normandy commemoration committee.

President John F. Kennedy, flanked by Congressman Sam Gibbons, arrives in Tampa, Nov. 18, 1963. Gibbons served for many decades in the U.S. House of Representatives before retiring. National Archives photo

When Gibbons returned to Normandy for the 50th anniversary – he had with him another two cans of Schlitz beer – which he drank and left sitting on the road again – as a monument of a different sort.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to cover Sam Gibbons as an elected official and as a Veteran. He will be remembered as a “true American hero.”

And, if you happen to have a can of Schlitz handy tonight –  lift one to the old warrior who battled among the hedge rows of Normandy and bridged the aisles in Congress to make this a better country and world.

A World War II Veteran Purged from Florida Voter Rolls

WWII Veteran Bill Internicola. Photo by Taimy Alvarez/Sun Sentinel/MCT

An Army World War II Veteran, who was awarded the Bronze Star as a medic in the Battle of the Bulge and honored by France with its Chevalier Legion of Honour, received another distinction from the State of Florida.

Ninety-one year old Bill Internicola, the Stars and Stripes reports, got a letter recently that purged him from the voter rolls. It stated:
“The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office has received information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.’’

Florida is a vital swing state in this year’s presidential election. The WWII Veteran participated in a news conference hoping to demonstrate flaws in the state’s effort to purge voter rolls prior to the election. Continue reading

First African American Tank Unit in WWII Combat Reunites

Image courtesy of the National Archives pictures of African Americans during WWII.

At 88, he is one of youngest of the group – Eddie Walker of St. Petersburg. He served with  the first African American tank unit to enter World War II combat and is now Chaplain for the 761st Tank Battalion and Allied Forces Association which held its 63rd reunion in Tampa this weekend.

“You weathered the storm at home in order to weather the storm in face of the enemy.  If only those who caused the storm at home knew you were responsible for many of their men returning home. Perhaps movies such as ‘ Battle of The Bulge ‘ can be re-written for filming featuring your story, and maybe a movie one day strictly for The 761st.” – Is one of the messages in the Guestbook on the 761st website. It notes the discrimination and hardships that black soldiers had to overcome in WWII when U.S. Forces were segregated.

The 761st Tank Battalion was assigned to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in 1944 and played a crucial role in the Battle of the Bulge. The unit’s motto: “Come out fighting.”

Photo courtesy of the 761st Tank Battalion and Allied Forces Association.

Of the original 700 soldiers, few are still alive. But the families of the 761st are working to preserve the battalion’s stories and accomplishments. The 761st website has a roster of the original unit. And, membership in the association is open to those who want to support preservation of the battalion’s history.

For more on the reunion, you can read Shelley Rossetter’s story in the St. Petersburg Times.

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