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Awards honor veterans
Three praised for their service to country, area
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Three area residents were honored Sunday for their military service at a program at Bassett High School. David Kipfinger (left) was named Veteran of the Year, and Herbert S. Gibbs (center) and W.C. Fowlkes were honored as Henry County Outstanding Veterans. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Monday, November 12, 2012

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Veterans whose service spanned nearly 70 years between World War II and the war in Iraq were honored in Henry County on Veterans Day Sunday.

Herbert S. Gibbs, who arrived at Pearl Harbor the day before it was attacked by the Japanese, and W.C. Fowlkes, who served in Iraq in 2006-07, both received the Henry County Outstanding Veteran Award from the Henry County Board of Supervisors at the program held at Bassett High School. About 120 people attended.

David W. Kipfinger Jr., whose 22 years of active duty included service in Vietnam, Korea and Germany, received the Veteran of the Year Award from area veterans groups.

“Being up here with this hero, it’s hard to even speak,” Fowlkes said of Gibbs as they accepted their awards.

Gibbs, 93, said he was nominated for the award by the Mount Olivet Ruritan Club but was surprised to receive it.

After the ceremony, he talked about his experiences during the war. He joined the Navy on July 25, 1941, and was assigned to the USS Vega. He arrived at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941, and the next day, he was standing on the ship’s gangway in his dress white uniform, ready to go on shore to celebrate his 20th birthday that day.

Then he heard the officer of the day say, “‘Man your battle stations. This is no drill,’” Gibbs recalled Sunday. “My goodness, my goodness; they’re bombing our ships,” he remembers thinking at the time.

The fighting lasted most of the day, he said, adding that where the USS Vega was berthed, he only saw smoke from the rest of the battle. He was not injured.

But he was well aware of the magnitude of what was happening, he said. “I knew we were being bombed by the Japanese,” he said. “There was no doubt” the nation was at war.

His ship was credited with keeping Japanese planes from bombing oil tanks nearby, he said.

Gibbs stayed at Pearl Harbor for more than six weeks. He then served on several destroyers and in several significant battles in the Pacific Ocean.

His ship’s job was to bomb the Pacific islands so the Marines could land, he said. That included the island where Gen. Douglas MacArthur went ashore, Gibbs said, adding that he saw the famous general during his time there.

Gibbs’ wife, Vivian Lynn Gibbs, was from Martinsville, so he moved here in 1952 and worked at Lacy Manufacturing. His 21-year naval career ended Jan. 26, 1962, he said.

“If I could think of everything I did, it would be quite a life,” he quipped.

Fowlkes is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a former Air Force medic. His military service started in 1968, and he retired in 2009 after 36 years of service.

Like Gibbs, he was surprised to receive the award Sunday and said he was proud because there are many veterans who deserve it. He added that he accepted it on their behalf.

Such awards and honors are important, Fowlkes said, because they show young people the benefit of military service and the value placed on it by the community.

They also help young people see the purpose of wars, from Pearl Harbor through Afghanistan, and help them understand the sacrifices service men and women made, he added.

Kipfinger added that such honors show veterans they haven’t been forgotten and that the country and this community appreciate their sacrifices.

Kipfinger said he was “very honored ... that my fellow veterans found me worthy” of the Veteran of the Year Award. Previous winners have been “top-notch,” he said, adding that he hopes he can continue their tradition.

He held several leadership positions before he retired from the rank of E-7. They includes squad leader/platoon sergeant, drill sergeant/instructor, military customs inspector, adviser to the Minnesota National Guard and others. He also has numerous awards and decorations.

Since retiring, he has been involved in veterans affairs with various VFW, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and American Legion organizations, works with Junior ROTC programs, transports veterans to the VA Hospital in Salem and other activities.

The speaker for Sunday’s program was Maj. Philip Corbo, who retired from the Army in 2006 with 22 years of active service. He is the senior Army instructor at Magna Vista High School.

He gave the history of Veterans Day, mentioned famous people who served in the military and talked about the service and sacrifices of veterans. In particular, he mentioned that often veterans are active in their communities and the first to respond to emergencies.

That was illustrated by Gibbs’ active membership in the Ruritan Club, and he has been in the Elks, American Legion, Masons and other groups. Kipfinger frequently speaks in the schools to let young people know that others care about them, among other services. Fowlkes has been involved in organizations includes the Martinsville Jaycees, Christmas Parade Association, Crime Stoppers, Habitat for Humanity, Christmas Cheer and others.

Fowlkes agreed that veterans often respond quickly to emergencies. That, he said, is because the military is based on the buddy system — you always help your buddy.

“Everyone in the community is your buddy,” he added.


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