Karl H. Gibson – Sergeant, United States Army

From a news report: February 2000

After a half-century, Karl and Grace Gibson were reunited last week.

Sergeant Karl H. Gibson was a medic who landed with the Army at Anzio in Italy in World War II. For his role in the bitter fighting up the Italian peninsula, “Big Karl” was awarded the Bronze Star for valor after he led a group of soldiers out of a minefield.

When the war ended, Gibson stayed in the Army and was stationed in the Bronx.

“He was a great man, compassionate, loving, very understanding,” said the Gibsons' daughter, Kay Fermin, 64, of Reston. “He loved the Army, and  he loved his country. He liked helping people.”

After North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Karl Gibson was sent over, serving as a medic with the 9th Infantry Division. When the Chinese Communists suddenly entered the war near the end of that year, Gibson was caught in the desperate and horrific fighting that ensued. In December 950, Gibson was reported missing and was believed to have been taken prisoner.

Back home, the family anxiously reviewed the lists of soldiers who could be accounted for that was released by the Army. “We stayed up for days and nights looking for his name, but it never came,” said Fermin, who was then a teenager.

In 1954, Karl Gibson, 45, was declared dead. Grace Gibson was too brokenhearted for a memorial service.

“We never had a service, because my mother said she couldn't go through with it,” Fermin said. “There was no closure.”

Karl Gibson's remains were never recovered and presumably lie in an unmarked grave in North Korea.

Grace Gibson never considered remarrying. “It never even came up,” Fermin said.

She suffered a stroke about that time and “was never well again,” Fermin said. But she never stopped talking about Big Karl, as everyone called him.

“She brought him to life for me,” said the Gibsons' granddaughter, Kim Pagani, who also lives in Reston.

When Grace Gibson died of cancer last month at age 88, the family was delighted to learn that as the widow of a soldier, she was eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. And because no service had been held for Big Karl, a joint service with full military honors could be held.

“He never had a funeral,” said Dov Schwartz, a spokesman for the Military District of Washington. “Essentially, this was his funeral.”

“It's uncommon, not something that goes on all the time,” Schwartz added. “Usually, you don't wait 46 years to have a funeral service.”

So on a cold Tuesday morning, with the cemetery blanketed in snow and an Army honor guard on hand, family and friends gathered for a reunion. A headstone bearing the names of Karl and Grace Gibson soon will be placed at the grave site.

“I'm so elated that I can't really grieve,” Fermin said. “This is like real closure.”

Nobody would have been happier than Grace Gibson. “She would love that,” Fermin said. “She would see that he was finally recognized.”

American Battle Monuments Commission:

  • Karl Hudnell Gibson
  • Essex, New Jersey
  • Sergeant First Class, US Army
  • Died while Prisoner of War
  • Died December 10, 1950 in Korea

Sergeant First Class Gibson was a medic with the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was taken Prisoner of War while while tending his wounded comrades in North Korea on December 1, 1950 and died while a prisoner on December 10, 1950. For his leadership and valor, Sergeant First Class Gibson was awarded the Bronze Star.

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