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Interview with Gilbert Gibson, October 8, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Gilbert Gibson, October 8, 2007
October 8, 2007
Interview with former chaplain of the United States Navy, Gilbert Gibson.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Gibson, Gilbert Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  10/8/2007 Series:  Military Length  90 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina, Wilmington Randall Library. Today is the 8th of October in the year 2007, and we're in Williamsburg, Virginia. Today's interviewee is Gilbert B. Gibson, a former chaplain with the United States Navy. Good afternoon, sir, and how are you?

Gibson: I am very fine, sir, thank you.

Zarbock: Good. Chaplain, could you tell me, please, what individual or series of individuals or event or series of events led you into the ministry?

Gibson: Well, there's a series of individuals. I was raised in the Episcopal Church in Southeastern Pennsylvania. And enjoyed that very much and was with that church until a teenager, and carried with me a lot of traditions and appreciation for the ceremonies of that liturgical church. In high school I got involved with Youth for Christ, and walked down the aisle, like so many did, and made the decision to follow Jesus and committed my life to Christ and became involved with Youth for Christ.

Zarbock: What year was that, Chaplain?

Gibson: That was in 1963. One of the experiences in Youth for Christ is one of the speakers one time was Mitsuo Fuchida of Japan, who was the pilot leader of the raid on Pearl Harbor. He became a Presbyterian minister after the war, and he was on tour in the United States and came by and talked at our Youth for Christ meeting. That impressed me. A warrior, a fighter, and now a Christian, and he gave a very impressive talk. My pastor at that time was J. Windfield Bronson of the North Chester Baptist Church. He was very impressive. He was a scriptural literalist, preached biblical exposition every Sunday, twice on Sundays, and gave me a real appreciation for the authority of scriptures. Graduated from high school, went down to Georgia Tech, started attending First Baptist Church of Atlanta, and the pastor was Roy O. McClain, who as giant at that time.

Zarbock: And the year is now what, sir?

Gibson: The year is now 1964. And I got involved with that, and also the Baptist Student Union at Georgia Tech. And the director was Warren Wolfe. So those combinations of people really drew me into the ministerial life, making your faith part of your life all the time, looking out for other people. After a couple of years, I was the Sunday School superintendent, you know, and did all that stuff. Then comes Vietnam. When I came back from Vietnam--

Zarbock: Oh, wait.

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: How did you get into Vietnam?

Gibson: Well, I had joined the Naval Reserve when I was in high school because I'd always wanted to serve in the Navy. And I joined the Naval Reserve in high school intending, out of Georgia Tech, to become an officer. I was in a Seabee outfit, Seabee Reserve outfit; I was a construction electrician. At the end of my junior year, I ran out of money. And I went over to the Reserve Center and I said, "Boy, do you think I could get a couple of years of active duty?" This is 1967. And the Chief Petty Officer rubbed his hands and said, "Oh, I think we can arrange that." So I went off to active duty with the Navy Seabees.

Zarbock: As an enlisted man?

Gibson: As an enlisted man. And I was assigned to MCB-71, deployed to Vietnam. Waded through the Tet Offensive and its aftermath in all of 1968. Came back, was discharged-- or, actually, released back to the Reserves. Went back to college.

Zarbock: I'm going to interrupt and ask you to go back to something for the purpose of clarity. You and I know what you meant when you said Tet Offensive, but years from now that may be just a series of sounds to people. What is Tet and what was the Tet Offensive and what was the result of it.

Gibson: The Tet Offensive-- well, let me back up. Tet is the lunar new year in Asia. It's celebrated in a lot of Asian countries. And it was the custom in Vietnam, even during war, for it to be kind of an informal truce during the Tet holidays. And Tet is moveable because it's lunar, and it just happened, in 1968, to be the end of February. The South Vietnamese, as was their custom, gave about half or maybe two thirds of their troops home leave during Tet. The North Vietnamese under General Giap-- a brilliant strategic thinker-- had spent, oh, the previous nine or 10 months building up huge forces just outside the borders of South Vietnam, and his goal was to have a massive offensive from the DMZ all the way down to Saigon during Tet holiday, when resistance would be light, capture as many South Vietnamese cities and bases as he could. He understood that the balance of forces being what it was, he wasn't going to be able to hold them. He figured he would get driven out, but he also figured that if he could cause enough shock and terror feeling that it would go far to winning the war. Toward the end of February-- and I can't remember the exact date-- they struck. They captured major cities. They made incursions into Saigon. They attacked bases all the length of the country. They almost cut the country in two up around where I was in Chu Lai. Their division almost drove to the coast before they were stopped. The Tet Offensive was defeated. It was a huge defeat for the North Vietnamese. It was a battle on the scale of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and was a decisive victory for South Vietnam and American troops.

Zarbock: And no quarter was asked and no quarter was given.

Gibson: No prisoners taken. At the end of the Tet Offensive, the end of March or so, 1968, there was not a living North Vietnamese soldier inside the borders of South Vietnam.

Zarbock: What did you do during the offensive?

Gibson: My battalion was based in Chu Lai and we basically repaired bridges, because they blew up all the railroad bridges and highway bridges in the northern part of South Vietnam, particularly along the coast. And we basically repaired bridges and did transport duties and things like that. I was very, very surprised when we got home in November of that year to find out that Walter Cronkite had come back and told the entire country that it was a defeat for the U.S. That just flabbergasted me because we beat the daylights out of them and it was decisive. Had we followed up on it, it would have been a different story. Okay, that was a (laughs) that was a long break from the narrative of getting into the ministry. I came back from that experience and went back to the BSU, the Baptist Student Union, and was thinking about going into the ministry, but not too much.

Zarbock: What were you studying?

Gibson: I was studying electrical engineering. And I (laughs) yes, I know, it's a strange pre major for theology. I used to love to go down in the engine room of ships and ask the sailors questions they couldn't answer. But I was in the Baptist Student Union, and I found myself working more and more and more in that. And I had some talks with my pastor, who was at the First Baptist Church of Decatur at that time, Bill Lancaster. And I finally said, "You know, I'm going to do this. I'm going to be a minister, and I'm going to be a chaplain, a Navy chaplain." Finishing the degree at Georgia Tech was the fastest way to the bachelor's degree, although I also went over to Georgia State and tried to take some courses more in line with going to theology school and ended up with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Then I went over to Emory University in Atlanta and took the theology master of divinity, which is a three-year course, and went on from there. I joined the theological student program that the Navy had at the time, and I joined a Reserve unit as a Reserve "Chaplain," quote, because I was still a theological student. Another mentor I had there was Larry Ellis, who was the senior chaplain at the Naval Air Station, and he really encouraged me to pursue active duty and all that. So the strains kind of came together. You were asking about becoming a minister and becoming a chaplain. Well, it all kind of happened at the same time. My battalion chaplain in Vietnam was Billy Dennis, a United Methodist guy. And after I got banged up a little bit, I was his bodyguard.

Zarbock: Banged up a little bit?

Gibson: Oh, I fell out of a truck and hurt my knees. There was a little impetus from a hand grenade coming down in the truck, but I hurt my knees and they didn't want me to go back to the field, do anything really strenuous for awhile, so I became the chaplain's bodyguard and went everywhere with him. And he impressed me so much, in seeing that work up close, that that's what I wanted to do. You know, people talk about the call. Well, that was the call, to do that kind of work. I would have had a tough time in Vietnam if it wasn't for the chaplain. He was just a great guy and very straightforward and very down-to-earth, and he kind of pulled us along, a lot of us. So I got back to college, and I went through all of that. And I went into the Reserve program, and then finally got an active commission in 1975 as a chaplain. It's a strange story, I know. (laughs)

Zarbock: It's a wonderful story. Let me massage this event just a little more. As the chaplain's bodyguard, what did that feel like, to be the-- or give me whatever you choose to give me, a word picture, what that felt like to be the recipient of a relationship with a chaplain. You had relationships with all sorts of people in the Seabees and, you know, in your academic work, family, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Was this a different type of--

Gibson: It's striking that the chaplain is a noncombatant, and he was out there with us, going the same places we did and all that, not carrying a weapon. You know, I read somewhere about what it takes to walk on the battlefield unarmed. He did that. He came with us on our convoys and whatever we were doing without a weapon. And whenever he preached, he wasn't preaching stuff about how to go to heaven and the 10 Commandments, all that, he was preaching how to apply faith in this situation that we're in right now. And he was very down to earth about that. It just struck me as I would like to do that some day. To be around him all the time, I thought it was an honor, and also a responsibility because you're the guy that's supposed to stand in front of the chaplain and take the bullet for him. We have a formal structure for that now, with religious program specialists and all that, but in those days, it was, you know, the chaplain got as his clerk either some guy who was messing up and nobody else wanted or somebody who was hurt or something like that. But I went with him everywhere he went, and we went to a lot of South Vietnamese churches to do some civic action programs and things like that. And everywhere he took the jeep, I was riding in the right seat with my M 16, watching out and watching him as well. The day I got commissioned as a chaplain I called him on the phone and told him that I was now a commissioned chaplain, and he was very happy for me.

Zarbock: Is he still alive?

Gibson: I believe he's still alive. I believe he lives down in Missouri, but I'm not sure. I haven't talked to him since the early '80s. And, you know, he was probably in his 30s then, so he'd be in his 70s now. To do those kind of things and to get involved with the kind of things that the chaplain got involved with, aside from his ministry to us, would be a really good thing to do. I got to know some South Vietnamese. There was a Christian missionary, an Alliance pastor who had a church in Chu Lai, where we were. He had a church and orphanage in Tam Khi, which was up the road, about halfway to Da Nang. And just before we left, they'd established a third house church about halfway in between the two of them. So I got to know those folks. I got to eat really good Vietnamese food, which I love to this day. Tyson's-- or Seven Corners up by-- in Northern Virginia is a big Vietnamese community. They've got great restaurants. If I can insert another little story here, Pastor Ta Ke, at his orphanage, had his wife and--

Zarbock: How do you spell that? Do you remember?

Gibson: T A K E. Two words. T A K E. He had a wife and three or four daughters, and in August of '68, something they call mini Tet-- it was another little thing like that-- the city of Tam Khi was overrun briefly. And he and his daughters and his wife were in their shelter, and the North Vietnamese captured one of his daughters. And by the time we left, we hadn't heard any, you know, a couple months later, we hadn't heard anything about that. Years go by. Years go by. I'm now a commander in the Chaplain Corps. I'm working in the Chief of Chaplain's Office, probably with too much time on my hands, but some contacts. So I get ahold of the National Headquarters of the Christian Missionary Alliance, and I asked about Ta Ke. And they wrote back and said he was still ministering in South Vietnam, although it was extremely difficult for him. And I asked about his daughter, and his daughter had been returned to him. Not only had she been returned to him, but she was-- married another Christian missionary and Alliance pastor, and was living in Northern Virginia. So I, you know, they're getting me a phone number, and I arranged to meet her at a restaurant. And I told her, I said, "You have no way of remembering me." I pulled out a picture that I had of her father and Chaplain and me with a couple, and she recognized the places and all that kind of stuff. That was really neat. That was very, very nice. And, you know, I can't even recall her name now, and I don't know where they're living. I've talked to them a couple times, and then I retired.

Zarbock: But she survived.

Gibson: She survived.

Zarbock: And in a way of speaking, she prospered.

Gibson: She prospered. I don't know how long they were planning to stay in the States. Very difficult for Vietnamese refugees who left to go back. The Vietnamese government makes that very, very hard. They're not allowed to bring any money or anything like that, so I don't know if she's still in the States or not. But this guy, Ta Ke, first time I went to his church, I knew hardly any Vietnamese but I wanted, you know, I wanted to see what's church like. His church was in Chu Lai, a little village An Tan. And I noticed as we walked in there was a man sitting on a half of a pillar, like sitting on a chair, by the gate of the church. And I asked somebody what he was doing and they said, well, he was a Vietcong, and he was writing down the names of the people who went into the church so that if the Vietcong ever took over the village they could be killed. And here they were, walking right into the church. So, you know, the Vietnamese haven't completely suppressed Christianity in Vietnam, but boy, they try. They try. So that brings me into active duty (laughs) as a chaplain. I got a commission in 1970-- I guess 1977.

Zarbock: As a-- what rank?

Gibson: Lieutenant JG. And then I went on active duty in 1980.

Zarbock: And where were you assigned?

Gibson: I was assigned to Officer Candidate School at Newport, Rhode Island. Actually, I was assigned to the Chapel of Hope, which is the base chapel, but the base chaplain farmed me out to Officer Candidate School. I had an office in the Officer Candidate School building. My formal chain of command was back through him to the base commander, but informally I worked with the regimental commander and the OCS commander all the time.

Zarbock: Did you know Jim Apple?

Gibson: I do know-- I know Jim Apple, yes. I know Jimmy Apple.

Zarbock: Well, I'm going to have lunch with him next week. I thought I'd check you out at that time.

Gibson: Okay. When your camera's off I'll tell you a story about Jimmy Apple.


Gibson: Yeah, I was at Officer Candidate School. I met my wife there.

Zarbock: Was she working on the base or what she a student in the Navy?

Gibson: No, she was an officer candidate. This is one of those things where I got a note from my CO that said, "Fix it." I came into work one morning about 6:00. I lived on base. I lived in the BOQ. I got to work early. There was a note on the desk that the OD had put in--

Zarbock: The OD is?

Gibson: Officer of the day; the guy who was in charge when the CO isn't there. There was a note from him that says, "Captain Piffinger says call Officer Candidate Kolster and fix this." I go, "Okay." So I got ahold of Officer Candidate Kolster, and she came down. And I said, "You know, all I know about this is if Captain Piffinger says fix this, so tell me what happened." It turned out that her mother, the previous day, had been diagnosed with brain cancer, just a virulent brain cancer that was expected to kill her within a matter of months. Her sister, Chris, had called Officer Candidate School with this news and asked that Kim be granted emergency leave to come home and see their mother. She got ahold of the staff officer of the day, who was a lieutenant company commander-- an absolute jerk. Just a jerk. One of things about Officer Candidate School in those days, for a male officer to be a company officer at Officer Candidate School, he had to fail at something. You flunk out of flight school, you flunk out of SWAT school, you flunk out of law school, something like that. To be assigned as a company officer, you had to fail at something. A woman officer, to be a company officer there, had to be in the top 10 percent. So there was this huge disparity, and she got a guy who had failed out of aviation Officer Candidate School, failed flight school. And he was just a jerk, nasty.

Zarbock: And embittered to boot.

Gibson: And embittered to boot. So when Chris called him with this information, he just blew her off. "She can't come home. I'm not giving leave. Go away." Chris is a very determined woman, so she called the Pentagon and she got the Chief of Naval Operations duty captain and said what had happened and this is what they told me. The duty captain called the commanding officer of the Naval Education Training Center in Newport, who called Captain Piffinger, the commander of OCS, who dropped the note on my desk to fix this. So we got Kim leave. We got the lieutenant squared away, straightened out. I was a lieutenant then, and lieutenants could talk to each other the way commanders can't talk to lieutenants, so I got him squared away. And Kim and I became friends, and when she graduated from Officer Candidate School, we started dating and a year or so later we were married. And it's been 26 years last month.

Zarbock: Let me go back and massage this event a little bit. When the lady called the Pentagon, isn't that going out of the chain of command?

Gibson: She was a civilian. Chris was a civilian. She's not in a chain of command. So she figured, "Well, I can get action there." It would be terrible for me to have called the Pentagon, but not a civilian. It wasn't a question of chain of command at all. But it got action, it truly did.

Zarbock: When you said you squared away the lieutenant, what could you operationalize that?

Gibson: I explained to him the responsibilities of a Naval officer for the well-being of the people under his command, which is well spelled out in Navy regulations. I explained to him the necessity when emergencies arise to be sensitive to people's needs and feelings. And I especially impressed upon him the need to treat civilians, in their contact with the Navy, with a little respect. Now, I didn't use exactly those words and that tone. I used words I can't repeat on this television thing. (laughs) But I just made sure--

Zarbock: But you were very forceful.

Gibson: I was very forceful with him. And the fact that-- and this has been something throughout my career. The fact that I had combat ribbons on, you know, people tended to pay attention.

Zarbock: You had paid your dues.

Gibson: Yeah. I'd been there. He'd done nothing but fail in the Navy. So I squared him away. Anybody that's looking at this that's been in the Navy knows what that means. I squared him away.

Zarbock: Now there's a fair amount of code language in the world, isn't there?

Gibson: There's a fair amount of?

Zarbock: Code language, and fortunately that.

Gibson: Yes. Right.

Zarbock: Well, there you are, now a young and married officer. What did the Navy have in store for you?

Gibson: Well, Kim left. She was in Newport for a couple of months after she got out of OCS, waiting for a school to start in Norfolk. And she was going to school in Norfolk as an oceanographic watch officer. In that time, if you said the word SOSUS out loud it was a security violation, but now SOSUS has been all over the Discovery Channel and everything. It was the sound surveillance system, and she was trained as an anti-submarine surveillance officer. So she came down to Norfolk, and I got orders to San Diego to a new cruiser. We weren't married yet, and I got orders to a new cruiser in San Diego. And then she finished school and she went to a SOSUS station in Coos Bay, Oregon, lovely town, wonderful town. You just can't get there from San Diego. You have to fly to Eugene, and then you either rent a car and drive down or take the Horizon Air, which I won't do because I hate flying. It was easier to get from San Diego to Norfolk than San Diego to Coos Bay. So we're back and forth some and back and forth some. We finally figure we're going to get married. And I'm going to deploy with this cruiser in October of '81, so she came down at the end of September and we got married and had four days together and then she waved goodbye on the pier, and I sailed off to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and she went back to Coos Bay, Oregon. I tell people nowadays that Kim and I did things backwards. We got married, and then 18 months later we started living together. And that six-month deployment turned out to be a little over an eight-month deployment because of things in the Indian Ocean that were going on. And then when we were on our way home, they got the bright idea that we were going to escort then-Vice President Bush on his tour of Australia and New Zealand in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Pacific fleet commander, Admiral Watkins, later CNO, and the Vice President went to Brisbane and different places, and we were their Navy support ship. So we went to Brisbane, we went to Hobart, we went to Wellington, New Zealand, all these places where we were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Coral Sea. Meanwhile, we've been away from home for seven and a half months already, so we were kind of anxious to get home. But that's what the Navy had in store for us. She was still at Coos Bay when the Truxton went to Bremerton for an overhaul, and we were in Bremerton three or four months when she got orders to the personnel support detachment at the submarine base there, and we finally set up a household together in Bremerton, Washington. I went from the Truxton to the submarine group, the Trident submarine group at Bangor, and she was the officer in charge of the personnel support detachment there. So that was convenient. That was the first time we were co located.

Zarbock: Did you live on base?

Gibson: No. We lived out in town. Base housing was tough to get. And it's, you know, pretty much anywhere around base, base housing's tough to get. And I was too junior, okay? Let's just--

Zarbock: What were your duties? What duties were assigned to you there?

Gibson: At the submarine group?

Zarbock: Yeah.

Gibson: I had two major duties. One was to be the chaplain for the off crews. You know, the submarines had blue and gold crews. And the off crews are there for three months training, and I was their chaplain and I supervised, facilitated the wives support groups. I was on the Family Advocacy Council, things like that. My other major duty was to train the lay leaders for the submarines. The submarine crews don't have chaplains assigned, so they go out for these three-month deployments, and it was my duty to train and supply the Protestant lay leader, the Catholic lay leader, the Mormon lay leader, the Jewish lay leader, things like that.

Zarbock: How would you identify these people? I mean, how-- I'm sorry, how were these people identified?

Gibson: They self-identify. We say, "Who wants to be a lay leader?"

Zarbock: Okay.

Gibson: And generally at this stage, Trident submarine sailors were-- they're not first-term guys. They've been around for awhile, so they've been lay leaders before. And they're appointed by the commanding officer as lay leaders because in the Navy, the Command Religious Program belongs to the commanding officer. It doesn't belong to the chaplain. It belongs to the commanding officer. It's different in the Army and the Air Force. It's the commanding officer's religious program, and the chaplain, whoever is his staff officer, to carry that out. So I would train these guys. And I had an office as big as this carpeted area here. And then I had another room that was as big as this whole room that I had lined with shelves, and on it I had Bibles, I had Bible study courses, I had videotapes, I had all kinds of things. And we gave every lay leader what amounted to a suitcase, and he could come in before his patrol and pick what he wanted to take with him to use on the patrol.

Zarbock: What about such things as communion wafers?

Gibson: We supplied that.

Zarbock: And wine?

Gibson: And-- well, yeah. We supplied that. Now, the wine is kept in the pharmacy of the ship. We supplied that as well, and it was inventoried just like narcotics was inventoried.

Zarbock: Okay, in addition to wine you probably also had other non alcoholic beverages?

Gibson: Well, the Mormons do their sacrament with bread and water, which was no problem.

Zarbock: So a specially baked bread or--

Gibson: Yeah.

Zarbock: -- bread is bread?

Gibson: Bread. Yeah. So we gave the Catholics-- this is another story. The Catholics, they get consecrated hosts that have been consecrated in a Mass and reserved and put in a Suborium, and the lay leader takes that with him. The Archbishop of Seattle at the time was a guy named Hunthousen. He was very, very involved in the antinuclear forces. He made some just outrageous remarks. One time he called the submarine base the Auschwitz of Puget Sound. You know? None of us cared about that very much because we knew we weren't his audience. He wasn't talking to us. He was talking to somebody else. He had a staffer-- they had an audio-visual department. And they had a staffer on it, and I can't remember her last name. Her first name was Mary. He assigned her to provide audio-visual support for Catholic lay leaders on my submarines, and what she did was set up their TV studio, brought in priests, brought in readers, and they did six or eight Roman Catholic masses in a TV studio for different seasons of the church year and Lenten Mass and Easter Mass and Advent Mass and Christmas Mass, four or five ordinary time masses. They changed the decorations between the takes. They did the readings and all that kind of stuff. And they did a Mass right down to the Eucharistic Prayer, and then they would stop the Mass, and the screen would show beautiful scenery, different Puget Sound scenery, while the lay leader is then distributing the consecrated host from-- that he had been given before he left. And when there was enough time to do that, they picked back up with the--

Zarbock: What about the wine?

Gibson: They only did it-- one kind. I mean, they had-- they only had the consecrated host. Catholics can give communion in two kinds, wine and bread, or in one kind, just bread, and he just the one kind. Then when he had enough time to do that, the Mass came back on. They did the blessing and the pastoral prayer and the benediction and all that. They did all that for free. They didn't charge us a dime to do it. It was, you know, thousands of dollars worth of TV time and all that kind of stuff. So at the same time this Archbishop was making these bad statements about how terrible we were--


Gibson: -- he had his staff helping out with the Catholic ministry on the very submarines whose existence he hated.

Zarbock: Did he know that?

Gibson: He knew it. Of course he knew it. I talked to the man. He came down while we were doing the taping. I talked to the man. He said very clearly that he felt his responsibility to speak out on the morality of nuclear weapons, and he also felt his responsibility to minister to Catholic sailors in his diocese. I thought it was great. We never paid any attention to the anti-nuke people. They were down beating drums in front of the gate all the time, you know? They're not talking to us. We're just doing our business. And I got to go out in the boats once in awhile.

Zarbock: For the sake of the record, when the submarine went out to sea, how long were they out at sea?

Gibson: The nominal patrol was 72 days, but they would vary in length because we didn't want a set pattern. We didn't want a predictable pattern.

Zarbock: Okay. Now of the 72 days, is that 72 days underwater?

Gibson: They would submerge in the Strait of Juan de Fuca the same day they left the pier at Bangor, and they would surface in the Strait of Juan de Fuca 70, 75, 79 days later.

Zarbock: What was the crew, how many, roughly?

Gibson: A hundred and forty.

Zarbock: That's intimate living, isn't it?

Gibson: It is. Well, the Tridents are huge. The Tridents are huge boats.

Zarbock: Again, for the record, these are nuclear submarines.

Gibson: They're nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the huge ones. If people were familiar with the Space Needle in Seattle, if you stood a Trident submarine on end, it would be 60 feet higher than the Space Needle in Seattle. They're huge, absolutely huge submarines. So compared to the attack class submarines like the Los Angeles, it was a ballroom. It was good. I enjoyed going out with the boats. The commodore liked to have me ride them for a little bit. Either at the beginning or the end of a patrol, the submarine would go out to Hawaii to Lualitala, a test range, and shoot torpedoes just to keep their torpedo efficiency up. So if they were going to do it at the beginning of the patrol, I would ride out to Hawaii with them and then fly back. And if they were going to do it at the end of the patrol, I would fly out to Hawaii and ride it back. The difference in my relationship with the crews that I had spent eight or 10 days at sea with and the ones I hadn't was noticeable. The difference was really noticeable.

Zarbock: In what way?

Gibson: I was one of them. I mean, I wasn't a submariner and I didn't have dolphins, things like that, but I'd been out there with them. I'd been underwater with them. And there are no secrets. Your character is revealed. I put in my day's work; I did all kinds of things. I didn't get scared going under water. We had a fire on the ship and, you know, I went to my station. And so the guys get to see you all the time. There's no place to hide. So they feel different about you. I used to carry a submarine officer's qual book.

Zarbock: A what?

Gibson: A qualification book. If you're a submarine officer, you've got to fill out these personnel qualification books before you can get your dolphins. I would never get dolphins. We're not allowed to do that. But I would carry a qual book, and I'd go around and I'd learn the systems and I would get my quals checked off and things like that. The sailors appreciate it, and it's a good way to get to talk to the guys. You know, you don't want sit in your stateroom and wait for the sailors to come to you. If you do that, you're going to be lonely. You're only going to see bad guys. So if you take a qual book or something, you go around to the different stations, you get to talk to the guys.

Zarbock: And your electrical engineering background gave you a marvelous, marvelous entree.

Gibson: Yes. Like I said before, I liked to ask them questions they couldn't answer because even the best-trained submarine guys would train so far. But it was fun. I enjoyed submarines as much as I enjoyed anything else. It was a very good community, tight-knit.

Zarbock: And you say you will never get your dolphins?

Gibson: Never, because chaplains are noncombatants. And that is called a warfare insignia, and chaplains can't get those.

Zarbock: Would you hold services of any kind?

Gibson: Oh, yeah. Certainly. But, you know, you can only hold so many services. Usually the transit from Hawaii was eight or nine days, so somewhere in there the captain would designate Sunday and we would have services. That's common all through the service, you know? Sunday will be on Wednesday this week to fit operational schedules. And I'd hold Protestant service, and I might hold a Bible study in an evening or two, things like that.

Zarbock: Now the shifts on a submarine, were they 12-hour, 12 hour or were they--

Gibson: Once submerged, the submarine's operating on 18-hour cycles, six hours of work, six hours of ship's work or study, and six hours of rest. And they do that all the time. And the only way you know whether it's night or day on top is by what lights they have on in the control room. If you went into the control room and your watch says noon and it's red lights on, well, then you know it's night on the topside. I remember one memorable evening I was sitting in the war room, and we had a nice roast beef dinner. And the clock on the bulkhead said 6:00 in the evening. And the messenger came down and said to the captain, "The officer of the deck presents his compliments and announces sunrise," because it was sunrise on top. (laughs) But you get used to that.

Zarbock: But you'd never surface.

Gibson: Never surface. If you surface, it's a problem. You only surface if there's a problem. And nobody knows where they are, because the only people who know where the patrol areas are on the boat are the navigator and the quartermasters who maintain the chart and the captain. The sailors don't know where they are. "Where are you?" "We're at sea." "Okay."

Zarbock: Was there a demand for chaplain services on the part of the crew prior to being deployed?

Gibson: Well, there always is. Some of it's formal. We do pre-deployment briefs with families and things. And some if--

Zarbock: Covering what?

Gibson: Emergency procedures, messages, things like that. The families get family grams. They can send 50 word family grams five times, six times during patrol, and they would bring family grams to the submarine group headquarters, where an officer, me, would read them to make sure we're not sending out things to the crew when we-- you know, we don't want a wife saying, "Dear George, I won't be here when you get back." We're not going to send that one out. And then they would be put on a radio broadcast called PSBJ for Pacific Submarine Broadcast and J or A or whatever, and at predetermined intervals the submarine sticks its radio mast up and, shoop, downloads the broadcast in milliseconds, and then the radio people unpack it and distribute the family grams, kind of like that. So we'd brief on those procedures. We briefed on emergency leave, and largely the story on emergency leave was during patrol there won't be any. Only one time in my three years there did we ever do an emergency leave on patrol.

Zarbock: What was that about?

Gibson: It was a sailor whose 16-year-old brother crawled into their bed at the house on base and blew his head off with a shotgun. That's the only time we did an emergency leave in my time there when a boat was on patrol. That was a tough time all the way around. The wife was, the guy's sister in law, was all just-- I thought we were going to have to put her in the hospital. We moved-- they moved houses. They cleaned and repainted the house before anybody else moved in, all that kind of stuff. But it was a mess. The other time sailors came to the chaplain before patrol was to essentially-- if I was a liturgical person I would say they were going to confess and receive absolution before they went out or something like that. And even though I'm not liturgical, I'd still understand the need for that, and we would fill that niche for the guys. And if it was a Catholic and he really needed to go to confession, I'd send him over to the base chapel to talk to the Catholic priest, something like that. But there was a good bit of that. These guys took very seriously the idea that they may have to launch the crew out. It's a very serious responsibility. But the community was very tight, and it was tough to leave. I really regretting leaving.

Zarbock: I've just learned more about submarines than I've ever known before.


Gibson: The submarines are fun. They really are.

Zarbock: Well, where were you assigned after that?

Gibson: Well, actually I followed Kim. Kim got orders to the amphibious base at Little Creek, where she was going to be billeting officer, in charge of all the housing, bachelor housing, on base.

Zarbock: Again, for the sake of the record, Little Creek is where?

Gibson: It's in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It's right on the Norfolk, Virginia Beach line. It's the major East Coast amphibious ships base. And I asked for my detailer to send me there, and the only place he could find to send me that was appropriate for my rank was the brig in Norfolk. It was right behind the fleet headquarters in Norfolk. At this time, that was the big brig on the East Coast. Anybody anywhere in the Navy on the East Coast that got more than a two-year sentence came to us, and I was the brig chaplain. I was not happy to go there. (laughs) But, you know, you make the best of things so we, you know, we plunged in. We did chaplain stuff at the brig. But I was following Kim then. Kim's detailer sent her first, and then I had to take orders after that.

Zarbock: Is the Navy compassionate about that type of arrangement?

Gibson: The Navy is as compassionate as it can be. It can't always do that. There are unaccompanied tours where you can't take a spouse, and it can't always find an appropriate job for one or the other spouses. If there's not a legitimate billet for you to fill, they're not going to send you.

Zarbock: This is probably a time to make sure that we put in that sentence that people in the military serve at the pleasure of the government.

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: You do not serve at the pleasure of yourself.

Gibson: The "needs of the Navy" is a phrase that comes up all the time. My son, who is a Marine, finished boot camp back in August.

Zarbock: At Parris Island?

Gibson: At San Diego. He was living in Seattle when he enlisted, and they had several people in their platoon that they called 90-day wonders. These were folks who were going to take boot camp, and then they were going to go to college. And there was a mild amount of friction between the regulars and the reservists, and the guys who were only going to go to boot camp and then leave, they were kind of looked down up. Not greatly, because everybody's a Marine, but, you know, all these guys are going off to the soft life. About half a dozen of them got back home to find out that they weren't going to go to college, that the Marines had issued them orders to go to the school of infantry and then join a Marine unit that was deploying to Iraq. And the fact of the matter is, when they signed their enlistment contract, there was a nice little paragraph in there that said, "In the event of need for your services, the needs of the Marine Corps " and the Navy's the same way. So if they can, they will. And they make good effort to do it. But if they can't, it's "We're sorry. That's why they call them orders, you know? You're going here." Kim and I were pretty lucky in that when we got to the Norfolk area, her next assignment was in Norfolk and so was my next assignment in Norfolk. And then she left the Navy after the end of that assignment, so we didn't have to worry about that anymore.

Zarbock: How long had she been in?

Gibson: She served 10 years.

Zarbock: Did you have children during that?

Gibson: We did. We had a boy who is now 25-- 24, excuse me. And a young-- and our daughter is now 21.

Zarbock: Where are they loc-- well, you mentioned your son.

Gibson: Josh is in the Marines, and Megan works for a fashion store down in Georgetown. She has lots of talent, and she is the store--

Zarbock: Georgetown?

Gibson: D.C.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Gibson: In D.C. It's a place called Annie Creamcheese, so that tells you it's a fashion boutique. And she loves it. And she's taking marketing and management courses at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and she really likes it. She has a lot of talent, so she's doing well.

Zarbock: Well, in your career-- we've only got a few more minutes at this tape, so what I'm trying to do is to work a situation that would fit in through maybe four or five minutes. When did you get to Lejeune?

Gibson: I got to Camp Lejeune in 1993. I had just finished a tour of duty at the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk because after the brig I went to the Coral Sea, the aircraft carrier, and then I went to the shipyard. I had just finished a tour at the shipyard, and the detailer called and says, "Do you want to go to the Marines?" And I said, "Sure." And he says, "East Coast or West Coast?" I said, "I don't care." He says, "How about the 6th Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune?" And I said, "Aye, sir." And that's the way that worked. So I went to Camp Lejeune and-- the orders were the 2nd Marine Division, and I kind of got sidetracked to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which all comes out of the 2nd Division. It's a separate command, but the assets all come out of the 2nd Division. So my first assignment at Lejeune was with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Zarbock: And the year was what and what was your rank?

Gibson: 1993 and I was commander. I was the MEU chaplain, and the MEU consists of an infantry battalion--

Zarbock: Mew stands for Marine--

Gibson: Marine Expeditionary Unit. It has a battalion landing team, an infantry battalion landing team, with a chaplain, and an air squadron and a MEU service support group, and then shipboard chaplains attached to the three ships of the Amphibious Ready Group. So that was my second tour with the Marines, but that's when I got to Lejeune, to be part of the MEU. The MEUs are these 2,000, 2,200 units that when the president gets on TV and says, "I ordered 2,000 Marines to go--" that's the unit that goes. They're on three ships, and they go anywhere in the world, sustain operations ashore for 30 days without re-supply. Very flexible unit.

Zarbock: What were your duties?

Gibson: I was the-- my primary duty was to advise the commanding officer of the MEU on matters of religion, morale and morals. My direct ministry was to the headquarters element, which was really on about 150 people. But I was the staff officer that kept the commanding officer up to speed on religious requirements and religious issues in our operational area as well. When we went to the Balkans, I did a briefing for the staff on the religious issues between Muslims and Serbs and the Slovaks and all that all the way back to the 1400s and how that applied to what they might see ashore with these people. As the senior chaplain in the MEU and, by extension, the senior chaplain in the Amphibious Ready Group, my secondary duty was to maintain chaplain coverage for the ships, because only one ship had chaplains assigned and we rotated to the other ships to ride those for a period of time, conduct services and things like that, so it was my duty to coordinate that as well.

Zarbock: Well, if you were briefing senior officers on the social structure and changes that have taken place in the various religions in the Balkans over centuries, you must have had to gallop in order to pick up that information.

Gibson: How modest do I have to be here?

Zarbock: Not at all.

Gibson: That wasn't my first time looking into that issue. Even back at Emory University, in church history and things like that, I got exposed to issues like that. And being part of the military and seeing those contingencies coming down the pike, I read up on it and I studied up on it. And with all due modesty, not every chaplain does that. The guy I relieved for MEU chaplain didn't know diddly, and he was, you know, he was a stateroom commando. But I saw that coming down the pike, and I read up on it. There's a great book called "Balkan Ghosts" that goes into that. There's some stuff written from the Turks side. It's been translated into English. You know, it's not by coincidence that the Serbs at the end of the 20th century were still calling the Bosnians the Turk because of the Turkish occupation up until the early 20th century. But I had anticipated that and prepared for that. And I'd also been through the advanced course of chaplain school and had, you know, a course at the War College and things like that about being a senior staff officer.

(Tape Change)

Zarbock: This is the 8th of October, in the year 2007. This is tape number 2 with our interviewee, Chaplain Gibson. Take it away, sir.

Gibson: Well, we were talking about COs wanting to get into Chaplain's knickers, asking what people said to him and everything, and it reminded me of my first skipper on the USS Truxtun. I got to that ship in a pretty deep hole, because the guy I had relieved had been thrown off the ship for an improper relationship with a crew member; one of these things where, "Get of my ship now. We'll send you your stuff." And I was still a JG. And the skipper had talked to our detailer and said he didn't want a JG, and the detailer says, "You're getting a JG, and he's a good one," but the skipper was a screamer. The kind of guy who bragged that he used to tell the medical officer what medicines to prescribe and the medical officer did. We were underway - first time underway I'm on the ship. It's 10 o'clock at night and Taps is coming up. I go up to do the evening prayer, and I did the evening prayer, and then I walked out of the wing of the bridge to enjoy the night air, look at the ocean. And the Captain walks up and starts talking to me, and he starts lecturing me on my prayer, and then he started talking to me about what the Scriptures said about that subject. And I listened to him and listened to him for a while, and finally I said, "Captain, the United States Navy thinks there is only one person on this ship who's qualified to teach the Scriptures, and it is not you." And he said, "Very well," and he left. And I went down to my room thinking I had just ended my career or made my number with the captain. Fifteen years later, we're going to have a 25th anniversary of the commissioning of that ship celebration here at Washington Navy Yard, and I got seated at the same table with that old skipper. And during the evening, he leaned over and he says, "You know, Gil, you were the only officer in my wardroom that had any balls." But our position is well established with regulations. So as long as you stand on that, you're fine. The XO of the same ship later became an Admiral. Called me up to his office one time, and he gave me a - right before we were going to deploy, gave me a letter from one of the sailors saying he was homosexual and wanted a discharge from the Navy. I read it and the XO says, "What do you think?" And I said, "He's not a homosexual." "Well, how do you know that?" "He's not one of the homosexuals on board the ship." And he said, "How do you know that?" And I said, "Because I know all the homosexuals on board this ship." He said, "How do you know that?" I said, "Because they come and tell you. If you're the Chaplain, they come and tell you because they know you can't tell anybody, but they've got to talk to somebody." He said, "Well, who are the homosexuals?" and I said, "XO, are you kidding me? I can't tell you that." "Well, you have to." "No, I don't. I can't" And we went around and around, you know, but as long as you stand on where you are and regulations in the organization, you're going to do fine.

Zarbock: This is the time for me to wedge in that question that I told you off camera I was going to ask. Has there been any time in your military career that you were ordered to, hinted at, nudged, and with a wink, required to do something that was the antithesis of your personal belief, your morals, or your religious convictions?

Gibson: Not one time. Not even the slightest hint of such. It happens sometimes, but I've never experienced it, and I think one of the reasons is I was always assertive with my COs. They always knew that I knew what my job was, and I knew what my position was, and I never had that at all. I had one time I was going to do a benediction at a change of command, and this was an Admiral's change of command, and the aide came by my office, and he says, "I'd like to have a copy of your benediction." And I said, "Absolutely not. Prayers are not approved in advance." And he said, "Well, be nice, Chaplain, because I just want to print it up and put it in the read book on the podium just so you can have it." I said, "Okay as long as you understand that nobody approves my prayer, and you could whack me for it afterwards if you want, but nobody approves my prayer before I say it." He said, "I understand." I've never had anything like that where I was asked to do something against my conscience, against regulations, against my understanding of my duties or anything like that, not one time.

Zarbock: But reflect it to me and for posterity, there's always that Sword of Damocles that hangs over your head. You are an officer.

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: You are going to get an efficiency repot.

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: This efficiency report is going to be filed by this higher ranking officer, am I correct?

Gibson: Right.

Zarbock: Now, in the case of the Captain, your efficiency report is filed by whom?

Gibson: Your commanding officer.

Zarbock: Who would be the Captain of the ship?

Gibson: Yes, usually with the senior Chaplain input. For instance, when I was on the cruiser, this SURFPAC check, the surface force the Pacific Chaplain had, I had some input into that, but it's always the fin scores written and signed by the commanding officer.

Zarbock: Well, what is the tug between the efficiency report, conformity, and the desire to be innovative? I'm trying to make this as diplomatic as possible. Now, can you - and disguising--I'm sorry, I really don't want to know specifically anybody who you might call to mind as an exemplar, but can you think of anybody that really was abused?

Gibson: Oh, I can think of other Chaplains that were abused. I was on a ship. I'm trying to identify this too much, but when I was in MEW, the ship's chaplain of the ship I was riding in a staff meeting posed the CO's desire to have a bowl filled with condoms on the quarterdeck for the sailors to take as they went ashore in foreign ports. He didn't think that sent the right message to the sailors, and he opposed the CO in a staff meeting in private, you know, where you're supposed to do things like that, but then the CO whacked him for his insubordination, and he did not get promoted to the next pay grade. So things like that happen, but there are ways to head them off, as well, and it's the chaplains who go aboard a command saying, "Well, I'm just the Chaplain, and I want to come here and minister to you," that get in trouble like that. If you walk aboard your ship and say, "I'm your new chaplain; I'm your staff officer from Linnus Ministries. Here's my service record." If you establish yourself, then less of that happens. And, again, you have to know where you are legally. You have to know where you are in the position of command, you have to know what your duties are, and you have to be good at it. If you know those things and stand on those things, you usually don't get in trouble. There's a fifth thing, and you know, I don't want to be too maudlin here; we take an oath to be willing to die if necessary to carry out our duties. I would think that includes being willing to risk a bad fitness report for carrying out your duties as your see fit. I like to get promoted, I was disappointed when I didn't make captain, but I've never made being promoted a be-all and end-all of what I was doing. We're not there to be served; we're there to serve, and sometimes you take a hit when you do that. But like I say, you can avoid those situations if you're smart and know what you're doing.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I'm going to steer you into a conversation again that I alerted you to off camera. Reminisce a little bit for us about funny, humorous, mirthful events.

Gibson: Oh, Lord! Gad, how much time is on this tape? Well, when you said that, I started thinking about things, and I tend to think most funny things happen at sea, on sea duty. More funny things happen on sea duty than shore duty because on shore duty, everybody goes home at night. On our deployment with the Truxtun, when we were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, we made a side trip over to Tonga, the last Polynesian kingdom, and two, what I thought were really funny, things happened. We were going into Tonga, and since Tonga's a sovereign nation and there's a king, we were going to fire a salute. And the ship had two saluting cannons, 40 millimeter cannons right in front of the deck house on the first level, and we had a young ensign who was in charge of the saluting battery, and they had been rehearsing. So we're steaming into the lagoon at Tonga, and they started to fire the salute, and the ensign says, "Fire!" It goes BOOM! He says "Fire!" They go BOOM! "Fire!" They go BOOM! "Fire!" And nothing happens. So the ensign says, "BOOM!" (inaudible) (laughing) And the ENSO--the same ENSO they had to talk with about homosexuals--he's up on the bridge with his face buried in his hands. But on that same trip, same visit, we were anchored in the lagoon, and we were running boats for shore liberty. And there was this other young ensign, just out of SWAS School, first sea tour. He was a boat officer, and boat officers carry walkie-talkies. Called them a brick; it was about that size and that weight. And he'd keep in contact going back and forth to the ship. Well, one of the cardinal rules of getting off a small boat onto a big ship is you never have a foot on the ship and the boat at the same time. You never want to do that. Well, this ensign comes--the boat comes to the Accommodation ladder platform, and he's got his foot on the gunwale athwart of the boat, and he puts his foot on the acom ladder, and the boat goes whoosh! So he goes into the water, and he comes up. He lost his radio. He lost his glasses. He's covered with water. He comes straggling up the acom ladder. The XO is standing there and chews him up one side and down the other. (Makes screaming noise) Says, "Go to your room and stay there!" So he charges in there and everything. The XO turns to me and says, "Chaps, give him about 20 minutes, and then go in and see him and tell him we've all been ensigns, and we all know what ensigns do and not to take that too seriously." So it all worked out okay. It was pretty funny. And the XO's ensign's story was they were in Naples, and they were having Prime Minister of Italy come up the accommodation ladder. The XO then was the engineering officer who watched and chose that time to flush the CHT takes over the side on the same side of the ship as the dignitary that was coming up the acom ladder. And he says, "I survived that, he'll survive this."

Zarbock: What about the other bookend, the sad and . . .?

Gibson: Had a kid who came to the Coral Sea. We were out in the Med, and he transferred in, and I think it was the same evening that he transferred in--he came in by cot, Carrier Lindbergh Delivery Airplane. And he checked in, and he woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick, and on the way to the sick bay, he collapsed. And despite all the best efforts of our shipboard doctors and internist specialists--they flew from the naval hospital in Naples--the kid died. Nobody knew him. Nobody on board the ship knew anything about him because he hadn't been on board the ship 24 hours. Couldn't figure out what killed him. It was just so sad because he essentially died among stranger. And we had to prepare his story and all that and get it ready to go, send it home. The skipper asked me to write a letter to his family. What do you say? Nobody knew him. He hadn't been there a day. And at the time I left the ship, they still didn't know what killed him. So that's very sad.

Zarbock: That's about as alone as you're ever going to get.

Gibson: Yes. And it's kind of traditional whenever they're moving a body, there's always a chaplain standing there. The other two chaplains on the ship, they were just too far out of it. They didn't want to bother with it. It was too much for them. So we had to move him from the sick bay to the freezer so we could freeze his body or refrigerate the body, and of course, they're carrying the body bag through the passageway, so I'm walking with him and all that. It was just a sad, sad time.

Zarbock: An event like that, I'm sure the news of it quickly moves through the ship. . .

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: . . . with what I would assume to be the associated sense of depression, "It could have been me," type of . . .

Gibson: What killed him? Did he bring something on board? So I have to be worried? I was with the submarine group in Bangor, and USS Honolulu was coming into port, and about a day out of port, they had a kid die on board from hepatitis. He was a cook. So the commodore, the admiral, thought the best way to reassure the crew was to fly his senior medical officer and his chaplain out to the submarine. Well, the admiral wouldn't have sent these two senior officers out if there was anything dangerous about it. So I got to go down the wire to the deck of a submarine for the first time in my life, and that's an interesting. . .

Zarbock: I'm sorry, when you said go down the wire . . .

Gibson: Oh, from a helicopter. They lower you down. You have a harness under your arms, and they lower you down. Hopefully, you land on the deck instead of in the water.

Zarbock: Do you really request permission to come aboard?

Gibson: You do indeed. You absolutely do indeed. That is something you do. So we just walked through the submarine reassuring the guys, "We're going to get you vaccine. You don't have to worry about anything. Chances are it's not spreadable, but we're going to make sure we've (inaudible)." Same thing was on the carrier. A lot of guys were worried about did he bring some tropical disease on board or something like that, so you have to deal with that as well. And a lot of the fellows thought it was kind of self-serving to bring up that worry. "Oh, the poor kid's dead, but poor me, want to worry about me too." So there's that to work with. That was one of the strangest things that ever happened. You know, when he died, I was standing in front of my sink shaving in the morning, and they called, and they said he just died, and I threw on my shirt, and I went down there, and even though my tradition doesn't do this, I used the oil on him, and that was for the benefit of the doctors and corpsmen standing around to see that he was cared for. My theology doesn't include that, but that was more for the people who had been with him.

Zarbock: Well, we've got one of the bookends, the mirthful, and one of the bookends, the sad, probably never to be forgotten. Well, the mirthful never to be forgot, too. But the stuff in between, goof-ups and the snaggletooth events that weren't directed at anyone specifically, but organizational goof-ups?

Gibson: At OCS--when I was a chaplain at OCS, the regimental commander. . .

Zarbock: Where located?

Gibson: Newport, Rhode Island. The regimental commander, a staunch Irish-Catholic woman, Boston Irish-Catholic, decided that on the day before Christmas leave for the officer candidates, she was going to have a Christmas concert with the band and the chorus and all that, and the Christmas concert was going to be mandatory for all officer candidates before they went on leave. So I walked into her office, and I said, "Ruth, can't do that." This is in private again, and I'm her staff officer. She says, "Why not?" "Well, there's Jewish guys in this regimen, and if you call it a Christmas concert, you can't make it mandatory because you're violating their religious rights. They don't believe in Christmas. You can call it a 'Christmas concert', make it voluntary, or you can call it a 'pre-leave concert' and make it mandatory, but you can't call it a 'Christmas concert' and make it mandatory." Then she says--she told me to mind my own business. Now this was . . .

Zarbock: Despite the fact that this IS your business, right?

Gibson: Yes, despite the fact that that was precisely the reason I was on the staff. And that was like the end of October. That was planning, and I was giving her my advice in the planning process for this. Well, come the second week in December, and it comes out, "Christmas concert, mandatory attendance." Sure enough, here comes a Jewish guy down to my office, and he says, "I don't want to go to a Christmas concert," and I said, "Wait here." Three doors up the road, or the passageway, was the regimental commander's office. I walked in and I said, "You know, I have a Jewish guy in my office. He doesn't want to go to the Christmas concert, and I'm here to tell you that it's not legal for you to compel him to do so," and she invited me down to her office to, again, mind my own business. "Aye aye, ma'am." And I went back and told him we had raised this issue, the CO's decision was such and such, and that was where it's at. The day before the concert, I get into the office at 6 or 6:30 in the morning, and there's a note, again passed by the OOD from the CO of OCS, "Come to Captain Whalen's office--Captain Whalen was the base commander--ASAP."

Zarbock: This is Navy captain, not. . .

Gibson: Navy captain, not Marine captain, Navy captain. So I quick trot down to the base commander's office, and there sits the commanding officer of OCS, and there's this regimental officer, and they're on the speakerphone with the chief of naval operations' duty captain wanting to know why we're compelling a Jewish sailor to go to a Christmas concert. What the kid had done was called the Jewish Welfare Board. Now, Ruth--excuse me, I'm not going to say her name--the Regimental CO accused me later of telling him to do this, but I never did. He called the Jewish Welfare Board, explained the situation. The Jewish Welfare Board knew that there was a Jewish chaplain on Pentagon staff. They contacted him, and he went to the CNO. No, excuse me, I'll back up. He was the fleet staff, and he went to the fleet commander, who went to the CNO. And the upshot of the whole thing was Jewish guys didn't have to go to the Christmas concert. Everybody was happy. I was excused after I'd related my part of incident.

Zarbock: Is the word dismissed a more fitting word?

Gibson: I was excused. "Thank you, Chaplain. That's enough"

Zarbock: Oh, okay.

Gibson: Nobody was mad at me. And I understand that the regimental commander got the blistering of her life, not only for doing this in the first place, but for being too stupid to take her Chaplain's advice. Won't ask. And after the dust settled and all the OCs went off on leave and everything, I stuck my head in her office and said, "I told you so." And she says, "Yes, you did." Then she was suitably cold about that. But that was a real command snafu that didn't have to be. But those things happen, and it's usually because a commanding officer gets headstrong. That's what we discovered. And stubbornness is generally a good trait for commanding officers, but not always.

Zarbock: That must be a terrible conflict for somebody who's in command, the part of the mind saying, "I'm in charge around here."

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: And another part in the brain saying, "And, by the way, when I tell you to do something, I want it done." And then the other conflicts that you represent, I'm always drawn to what I've been told by other Chaplains about your lapel.

Gibson: Yes, you have lapel . . . You have an officer's insignia on one thing, and you have your chaplain's insignia on the other, and you're responsible to both.

Zarbock: It's the same collar, but two ends of the same collar.

Gibson: There's two things to say about that. First of all, before that issue comes up, you've got to have the relationship with your commanding officer so that he or she knows that you're not just a loose cannon who's being insubordinate. You have to have that relationship. And, again, that goes back to knowing where you are in the command, knowing what your duties are, and where you are legally. And the second thing is it has to--I've said to a commanding officer who wanted to do something that was totally wrong, "You are in charge, and the orders you give should be obeyed unless, for instance, you can't order that platoon of marines to go out of town and shoot civilians in the streets. You can't do that. You have no question in your mind that that's an illegal order for you to give. This is the same thing. It's not challenging your commanding authority; it's aligning your commanding authority with the legal scope of that authority." And it may seem a minor thing, like going to a concert, but it's a legal thing. I used to tell COS about the regimental CO at OCS, and I said it's always easier to prevent problems than to fix them, there's generally a way. The example I'd use, if you have a lawyer and you want to do something, you never want to ask the lawyer, "Can I do this?" You want to ask the lawyer, "How can I do this legally?" And that's the way it is for the chaplain. She wanted to have a concert, and she wanted the OCs to have to attend the concert before they went on leave, so how will they do that? Well, this is how you do it. No problem. It's only when the CO get stuck and strong-headed about it that you have a problem. That happens from time to time, but those things are generally very preventable if you get off on the right foot, it you're in the right relationship to start off with.

Zarbock: Myth--probably more myth than reality has it that the Marine Corps officers would probably be a glittering example of stubbornness. Well, what was it like to be a chaplain with the Marines?

Gibson: That's a total myth. I've served with Marines. I've served as the Italian chaplain for the Marine Security Battalion in Sub Base Bangor. I've served as a chaplain for the Marine Detachment on the Coral Sea, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, the 6th Marine Regiment, and the 2nd Marine Division, and I have never found a Marine officer to be irrationally stubborn. I've seen some Navy officers like that but never felt a Marine officer to be like that. Marine officers know what they want, and they expect to get it, but by and large, they know that they have people on their staff who know more about things than they do, and they listen to them, by and large. They'll always follow your advice, but I've never had a Marine officer not want to hear what I had to say. Going back, the first face-to-face interview I had with the CO of the second Marine or CG or the second Marine division, I sat down, and we shook hands and talked for a bit. And I said, "I'm really sorry the first time we meet face-to-face I have to come here to tell you you're doing something I think is wrong." And he says, "Well, okay, what is it?" He had put out a policy that a Marine who tested positive for marijuana, if his Italian commander recommended he was a good Marine, that he'd get a second chance, which was against Marine Corps policy at the time. But he was under a lot of pressure for first-term Marines to finish their enlistment. And he said, "Why do you think this is wrong?" And I said, "Because it really sends the wrong message to the troops." It doesn't send the message of, "Don't ever do this again, no matter what;" it sends the message of, "If we think you're a good guy, you're going to get away with it once. And from that they're going to think, well, maybe you get away with it twice. If you're going to draw the line somewhere, the place to draw the line is at zero, not at one." And we talked about that for a while, and he said, "You've got guts." I said, "It's my duty as your staff officer to tell you what I think." He says, "Well, I appreciate it." Well, he didn't take that advice. He kept that policy, but he listened, we discussed it, he was glad to get it, and I'm sure he thought about it, and he just didn't take that advice. And I didn't get insulted about that. I don't expect everybody to do what I say they should do, but he listened. He listened. And I found Marines to be that way generally. And the other thing about Marines, there's no such thing as collaborative duties. You don't get to be a CFC officer. . .

Zarbock: What is CFC?

Gibson: Combined Federal Campaign, the (inaudible) campaign. (Inaudible) could be that officer, and you don't get to be the hope or fleet hometown news officer or anything like that. You're a chaplain, and they want you to be the chaplain. The only collateral duty I had with the six Marines was I was the advisor to the family support group, which really fit in with what I was doing anyway. And the Marine COs I looked for, when they went to visit the troops, they took me along. They want you to be the chaplain, and they appreciate it. And I had really good times working with the Marines. We went to Bosnia. We floated around off Bosnia for a while. We did some exercises. And then we went to Somalia right after the Rangers got waxed in the Blackhawk Down thing. In fact, my wife was driving down the street at Jacksonville, North Carolina and listened to the President saying, "I've ordered 2,000 more marines," and she said, "I pounded on the steering wheel, knowing very well where they were. It was you." So we crossed the Med through the Suez Canal down to Somalia, to that."

Zarbock: And you went ashore?

Gibson: The MEW did not go ashore as the MEW. There was another MEW that came out from the West Coast. So we had what was called a brigade. And General Zinni came out with that MEW, and he was the brigade commander. And what we did is we lined up all six ships in line ahead a mile of Mogadishu and just steamed back and forth. Things got very, very quiet for sure because those Somalian rebels, for lack of a better word, they would mess with the Marine--or the Army, but they would not mess with the Marines, not at all. And we would put a company ashore for a few days a week, then bring it back and put another company ashore for the troops to get some experience more than anything else.

Zarbock: They would patrol? Or were they stationary?

Gibson: They would patrol some, but mainly, they manned the perimeter around the American embassy compound, gave the army guys a break, things like that, and it was mainly to get experience for the troops because it really wasn't necessary because nobody was messing around. They had 4,000--almost 4,500 marines. . .

Zarbock: Armed to the teeth.

Gibson: . . . Right, loaded for bear right off the shore. They didn't want to mess with us. So people here in the United States saw the video of that young army guide being dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu. Nobody here saw the rest of the video where they cut his arms off, cut his legs off, waved them around, things like. . . Our young marines were ready to go ashore. They were ready to go in there and just clean them out, and the CO felt like we had to give them something to do, and that's what we did. We rotated companies, and I would go ashore for a couple days, come back for a while. Had the army chaplains out to the ship. They were really glad to get a hot shower and things like that.

Zarbock: The year was what?

Gibson: 1994.

Zarbock: What was the combat situation in Bosnia at that time? Who was shooting at whom?

Gibson: The Serbs and the Bosnians were going at it; basically, Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Bosnia-Herzegovina had been a part of the Balkans that was occupied by the Muslim, the Ottoman Turks. Large portions of the population converted to Islam. These people were called Dogomils.

Zarbock: Called what?

Gibson: Dogomils. D-O-G-O-M-I-L-S. And even after the Turks were driven out in the Balkan wars in 1910, 1912, these people remained Muslim. The Serbs--the majority of people in Serbia--this was a province of Serbia--oppressed them, and if you want to figure out who started it and who's retaliating, you've got to go back four or five hundred years. But they were at it all the time, and it was basically combat between Serbian forces and Bosnian forces. I would tell people that it was a religious war and it wasn't anything else but a religious war. And I also made that--when I was the division chaplain little while later and it really looked like we were going to send troops there and the Russians said they would support the Serbs, it looked like the Balkans in 1914. And I said in a staff meeting at the division headquarters that for nominally Christian American troops to fight nominally Christian Russian troops on behalf of Muslims might not be in our country's long-term best interest. And, boom! I got whacked by the chief of staff for that. But, you know, it turned out that way. Supporting the Muslims there has not gained us a thing and made us vulnerable. Some of the planning for 9/11 took place in Bosnia in that Muslim community. But it was a religious war, and there was combat going on, and this was before we even started flying air over there. But as preparation for any NATO action in there, that was our mission, and we rehearsed that in Turkey. We met up with some Turks and some Italians and all that in Turkey and rehearsed landing and holding at port in an air field in Western Turkey. And nobody would say we heard this--we knew what we were doing because of SALLT planning and staff meetings, but nobody would say to the troops, "This is what we're doing. We're rehearsing to go into Bosnia." It's one of those things where everybody knows what you're doing but doesn't say what you're doing. It was an interesting time because we never knew whether we would--six hours from now we were going to be headed for the beach in Leningrad. It was very much an upheaval.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I'm going to go pendulum-wise here. How much time did you spend as a staff person in Washington, D.C.?

Gibson: Four years.

Zarbock: What was that like?

Gibson: The worst thing about working for the chief of Chaplains always was finding about things I wish I didn't know about. Most of that was things that chaplains did in public and got in trouble. And, again, lots of times, the chief of chaplains would come back and give me a piece of paper saying, "Make this better." Chaplains don't always do the right things, and sometimes they do spectacularly wrong things in public. The chaplain corps is hindered because the chief of chaplains doesn't own his Chaplain's notes. The chief of chaplains does not have command authority over chaplains. Chaplains are assigned claimances--Atlantic fleet, Pacific fleet, NAVEUR, things like that, and the billets are owned by the claimants. And then the chaplains belong to the commander, sent to the commands, and belong to the commanding officer. So the chief of chaplains had no disciplinary authority over the chaplains, and that is a handicap.

Zarbock: What about a reward system? Can the chief of chaplains reward?

Gibson: Not legally.

Zarbock: Promotion?

Gibson: The chief of chaplains has no role in promotion of the chaplains, none whatsoever.

Zarbock: Well, it sounds like the Holy Roman Empire.

Gibson: Which was neither holy, nor roman, nor an empire.

Zarbock: That's right.

Gibson: The only thing the chief of chaplains has to do with the promotion process is he appoints the chaplains who sit on election boards. But the promotion process is run by the Bureau of Naval Personnel. The boards are run by the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Strict rules, strict procedures. Promotions can be granted or denied solely on what's written in the record. When I was serving as a recorder on the board, if one of the board members said something about a chaplain, "Oh, I knew this guy in Naples, and he did this," if that wasn't in the written record, I would have to tell the Board members that they had to disregard that. They could not consider that, things like that. So there's really no formal way for the chief of chaplains to punish or reward a chaplain. Informally, he can send you to the East Jabib to be the Chaplain to the tugboat fleet at Diego Garcia, or he can send you to be the chapel pastor at the naval academy. He can do that. That's very informal kind of thing. So whenever chaplains would do something really bad in public, everybody expected the chief of chaplains to do something about it, but there wasn't much he could do about it at all.

Zarbock: So who did it?

Gibson: If anybody did anything, it was CO.

Zarbock: Who might've been a little leery to do something?

Gibson: Who generally are a little leery to do something, yes. It's usually the staff chaplain who wants to hang somebody, and the CO who tempers that down. I got involved in a case down in Gulfport, Mississippi at CE Center, when one of their chaplains, attendant chaplains did something really egregious, and I was sent down there, and the senior chaplain, base chaplain, was a classmate of mine, a 15-year friend. He says, "I want a general court martial and send this guy to Leavenworth."

Zarbock: Oh!

Gibson: The CO didn't want to do that, saying it would publically embarrass the chaplain board. I said, "Everybody knows about this anyway, so we're not going to get more embarrassment." So it came out to be the resolution was we were going to allow the guy to resign in lieu of court martial, which is (inaudible). So I got to give the guy the news, and he's in a room with me, and I pull out my briefcase, and I put a piece of paper in front of him, and I said, "This is your resignation letter. The chief wants you to sign this, and you're going to come back to DC with me, and by the end of tomorrow, you will be out of the Navy." And he said, "Why does the chief want me to resign?" I looked at him, and I said, "Because he can't have you shot." Okay. That was some of the things as a staff officer. Another thing as a staff officer in DC was working the system. The Navy chaplains sponsor something called CREDO. It stands for Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Organization. And these basically are what we call personal growth retreats for 25 to 30 people, and they go to a remote location for three and a half days, and they just unpack their lives. And these are for people who are having troubles. They're not functioning well. They may be involved with drugs, something like that, people who have problems. Very effective program. Very, very effective program and it happened to be run out of my shop in the chief's office (inaudible). Well, the secretary of the Navy wanted a review of all human resource programs in the Navy, of which CREDO was one, with an idea of cutting the budgets. So what we wanted to do was expand CREDO. We were running eight centers, six in the Navy and two in the Marine Corps.

Zarbock: Who would be the leadership in the. . .

Gibson: It would be a commander chaplain and two junior chaplains and a couple of RPs, religious program specialists. These people were trained at this, experienced, and supervised by a psychiatrist and by myself. Very effective program. We wanted to expand it. So what I did in my presentation actually to the assistant secretary of the Navy, who was in charge of this review, I found out how much it cost the Navy when a sailor committed suicide. And it turned out to be just about a million bucks in terms of death benefits, insurance payments, retraining another sailor and all that kind of stuff, just about a million bucks. CREDO budget for the entire Navy was about 8.5 million dollars, and we were asking for 6 million dollars more. I went down to this meeting, laid out my review. I said, "We don't want our budget cut," and the secretary (inaudible) said, "Nobody wants that," and I said, "Here's why." I gave him this piece of paper that came out of Bupers. Said it cost the Navy about a million bucks when a sailor committed suicide. Then I laid down 100 letters from people who had been through the CREDO program saying, "I would've killed myself if it hadn't been for this." A hundred letters. I could've had 500 letters. The guy looked at this, and he says, "How much are you asking for?" and I said, "Six million." He says, "Got it." We would hold a program that gained money, but you had to work the system. You couldn't just have gone down there and say, "Well, we think this is a great program. I want 6 million dollars." That wouldn't have worked. But saying, "we saved the Navy 100 million dollars that I can document right here and now, we're asking for 6," we had no problem on that whatsoever. And we got six new CREDO centers.

Zarbock: Is the program still in operation?

Gibson: It's still in operation, yes. It had some rough times under the last chief of chaplains, who didn't understand it, didn't like it, but it's restored. It's been called--not by chaplains, but by other people--the most effective suicide prevention program the Navy has.

Zarbock: Okay. One-line answer. Not even going to ask you why, but just maybe one-word answer. Best duty station you've had in your career?

Gibson: 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Zarbock: Worst station?

Gibson: The brig.

Zarbock: Well, and again, off camera, I indicated that I was going to reserve until the last the meaning of you. Given your life experiences from coming to Bajera to right now, you really have led a terribly interesting life. . .

Gibson: I think so.

Zarbock: . . . and have seen some amazing things, and happen to have been at a point A when things that are part of history books took place.

Gibson: Yes.

Zarbock: Well, with all of your personal experiences and all of your political experiences, broadly defined political, your apparent pleasure in history, what sort of credo have you put together for you Chaplain?

Gibson: For me, personally?

Zarbock: Yes.

Gibson: General Robert E. Lee, probably the greatest American soldier ever, was asked that question, and he said what I would say: "I'm just a poor sinner trusting in Jesus for my salvation." That's my credo.

Zarbock: I'm very, very pleased to have met you, Chaplain. Thank you.

Gibson: You're welcome.

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