James McKinley Gibson – Brigadier General, United States Army

Brigadier General James M. Gibson


Most of us have life quite easy compared to others. I have not heard of a life much harder than that of my Grandfather, General James M. Gibson. My grandfather’s life had many hardships. He showed great perseverance, while working his way up to the rank of General. His life was hard, beginning in childhood and continuing into adulthood.

My grandfather’s mother died of tuberculosis when he was very young. This tragedy was too much for his father to bear and he became an alcoholic. After that, his father could not hold down a job so there was no steady flow of income coming into their home, so young Jim Gibson worked bagging groceries after school at the local grocery store. Often, he would come home from work and find that his father was not at home. While my grandfather’s younger brother stayed behind to cook the family’s dinner, my grandfather would go out to find his father in one of the local bars, and bring him back home.

At the age of eighteen, Jim Gibson was drafted into the army. He was assigned to a lonely post in Mississippi and asked his girlfriend, Dorothy Harrington to marry him and go with him to Mississippi. World War Two had already begun and after his training in Mississippi, he was sent to Officers Training School to become a Lieutenant in the United States Army and then was sent to Germany to fight as an Infantryman. While in Germany, he earned several medals for bravery including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

After the war was over, he returned to his young bride in Massachusetts and shortly afterwards they had a daughter, Heather, who is my mother. After just a short time at home with his young family, James Gibson was sent off to fight again in the Philippines. Shortly after returning from this, my Aunt Meredith was born. A few years later the Korean War broke out and my grandfather was sent once again to fight as an Infantry Officer and earned the second star on his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Once again, he earned medals for bravery and was wounded in battle. But, he did return safely to his family after the Korean War.

James McKinley Gibson had decided by now to make the army his career. He knew that in order to rise up the ranks he needed to go to college and earn a degree. He put himself through night school, taking many years to earn his Bachelors Degree and Masters in Political Science from the University of Maryland. His proud daughters were both in high school when they attended their fathers college graduation.

My grandfather was once again called away to war in Vietnam in 1969. He was a full colonel at this time and the commander of an Infantry Brigade. Fighting once again as an Infantry Officer in actual contact with the enemy, he earned another Silver Star and a third star on his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He returned to the United States and was promoted to General. Shortly afterwards, in 1973, Brigadier General James M. Gibson retired from the Army that he loved so much. He was one of the few officers to earn a Combat Infantryman’s Badge with two stars, signifying that he had served in actual combat in three wars. Because of this, and his other deeds and also because of the fact that not many men who were originally drafted into the army rise to the rank of General, he was inducted into the Infantry Hall of Fame in Fort Benning, Georgia.

My grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1985 and attacked this disease with the same determination and bravery that had marked his entire life. His heart also began to give him trouble and he had to have a pacemaker inserted to help his heart work properly. In spite of these health problems, he remained active, never failing to join his grandchildren in the surf at the beach or to come to my Little League games.

His final fight was when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As was so typical of my grandfather, he decided to fight this enemy as he had all others, bravely and aggressively. He went in for surgery on April 6, 1992 but did not survive the operation. His brave heart gave out on the operating table. Brigadier General James M. Gibson was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in a grave just below the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with full military honors. His grave is marked by a tombstone on which is engraved the medal he was most proud of, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with two stars.

When I look back on his life, I see a man to be much admired. He began his life under circumstances that would cause many men to be failures in life, no mother, an alcoholic father, little money in the family and forced to grow up too early. Instead, he rose from the rank of drafted private to Brigadier General, fought in three wars and earned both a college degree and Masters Degree completely at night. He was the father of two fine daughters and the grandfather of seven children who admired and loved him very much. His strength of character was evident in all he did in life.


On Sunday November 30, 2003, DOROTHY MAE GIBSON of Alexandria, Virginia, a retired real estate broker in Fairfax County. Beloved wife of the late James M. Gibson, Brigadier General, US Army (Retired); loving mother of Heather Norris (Jack) and Meredith Johnson (Jerry); grandmother of Dorothy J. Norris, Jack Norris III, Heidi Price (Shane), James G. Wittig (Melissa), Kurt A. Wittig and Cynthia Mae Wittig. Mrs. Gibson is also survived by two great-grandchildren.

Friends may call at DEMAINE SPRINGFIELD-ANNANDALE CHAPEL, Backlick and Edsall Rds., Springfield, VA on Sunday, December 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. where services will be held Monday, December 15, at 11 a.m. Interment Arlington National Cemetery. The family requests memorial contributions be made to the Hospice of Northern Virginia.

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