Multi-honored veteran, injured in combat, will also deliver keynote address at noon Remembrance Service
DEARBORN – The grand marshal for the city’s 2014 Memorial Day Parade May 26 is William “Spanky” Gibson Jr., a retired U.S. Marine Corps master sergeant.
When he was a gunnery sergeant in 2006, he was injured in Iraq, and then became the first above-the-knee amputee to return to a ground combat area of operation in 2008.
Gibson has competed in triathlons, marathons, half ironman races and is a member of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.
His story of struggle and triumph sets the stage for Dearborn’s annual parade, now in its 90th year.
The day of activities will pay special honor to the modern-day soldier.
“There are so many people who have faced huge challenges in more than a decade of war, and they’ve succeeded,” said Nancy Dlugokenski, commander of the Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council, which co-sponsors the parade with the city.
“I promise these service members and their families will be well treated when they spend Memorial Day in Dearborn. Having Spanky Gibson lead us on this day will be phenomenal,” Dlugokenski said.
Dearborn funeral procession, parade, remembrance ceremony
Activities on May 26 begin with a 9:40 a.m. military funeral procession to honor veterans who died without resources and whose cremains have been stored in funeral homes.
At 10 a.m., the parade will travel this same route along Michigan Avenue from Greenfield to Schaefer, ending at City Hall.
The public is invited to stay at City Hall for a noon remembrance ceremony with music by the Dearborn High School band and an address by Gibson.
New this year: food trucks, concert, displays, children’s activities
New this year, parade-goers can enjoy a Great All-American Hero Tribute until 3 p.m. at City Hall Park and on Maple Avenue, with the Walk a Mile in Her Boots art installation, historic military vehicle displays, veterans information, and the Veterans Green Bus, which provides sustainable energy solutions.
Food trucks will be on site on Maple from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., along with a free face painter and balloon artist from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be a free concert by KwikFix Detroit from 1 to 3 p.m.
“My goal is to remember those we’ve lost in service to our country and celebrate the human spirit,” Dlugokenski said.
“In the midst of all our activity will be Master Sgt. Spanky Gibson. He is courageous. He continues to set goals and achieve them, including that of helping other wounded warriors. That is a message that will resonate with our residents and visitors.”
Grand marshal’s background
Gibson’s father was disabled from the injuries he received during the Vietnam War and fought to stay out of a wheelchair for most of his life.
Witnessing his father’s efforts had an impact on the young Gibson, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1989. His Marine career included deployments in Operation Desert Storm/Shield, Operation Sea Angel (Bangladesh), and Operation Restore Hope (Somalia).
Gibson left the Marine Corps, attended Rogers State University and joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
In 1995 he re-entered the Marine Corps. Gibson deployed as a JTAC with the 1st Brigade Platoon in January 2006 and was assigned as Direct Support to the 1st Iraqi Army Brigade in Ramadi, Iraq.
Combat injury sets a new path, inspires marathon running
In May 2006, Gibson was leading Marines on a house-to-house search along with Navy SEALS and a team of Iraqi soldiers when he was shot through the left knee during a fire fight. His left leg was amputated above the knee and he was flown out of the country.
Gibson rehabilitated at Brook Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, where he had prosthetic therapy. He was introduced to running, swimming, biking and skiing by a physical therapist.
Gibson started training and competing in triathlons. From November 2006 to November 2007, he competed in 12 races, including a marathon, two half ironman races and a three-day adventure race.
“For the rest of my life, that is one of the most defining moments that I’ll ever have,” Gibson said.
In May 2007, he went from being a patient to serving as the chief instructor of Marine Artillery Scout Observers Course and Marine Air Ground Task Force, Fire Support Coordination Course at Fort Still.
First above the knee amputee in combat area
At his own urging, Gibson re-deployed to Iraq in January 2008 as the IMEF Fires Support Coordination chief. This deployment made him the first-above-the-knee amputee to return to ground combat. He was promoted to master sergeant while at Camp Fallujah Iraq in 2008.
In October 2008, Gibson was selected to become one of the first two Enlisted Congressional Fellows to Congress. In 2009, he was assigned to the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to advise members about the needs of wounded warriors and transitioning service members.
In 2011, he retired from the Marines. His final duty was as a special assistant to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia.
More accolades; charitable work
Additional accolades include being nominated as one of the 10 most inspirational people of the year in 2008 by Beliefnet. He was also personally honored by President George W. Bush.
Gibson’s story has been featured by GQ Magazine, Sports Illustrated, the “Today” show, Fox, MSNBC news, and during the 2010 Super Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. The story of his battle to recovery is told in the music video “Still in the Fight” by musician and fellow Marine Lt. Col. Mike Corrado.
He is the recipient of more than 20 meritorious citations. He completed 20 military specialty schools, and his awards include a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor Device.
Gibson mentors fellow wounded warriors, is a Veteran to Veteran mentor for the Semper Fi Fund, and advocates for not-for-profit organizations, including the USO Wounded Warrior and Family Center. He is also working on a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology.
“In Dearborn and everywhere I go, I want people to see the sacrifices and resilience of our military and understand the ability to rise above challenges,” Gibson said.
To learn more about the parade, including the parade lineup, go to www.cityofdearborn.org and click on the U.S. Flag Memorial Day Parade button.