The dictionary describes the word ‘hero’ as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Example – a war hero.
Today it seems at every turn, someone is being hailed a hero. However, the case of Master Sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson, Jr. Retired, U.S. Marine Corps, the first above knee amputee to return to service as a soldier in a war zone, is different–the term hero applies 100%.
Born into a military family, service to his country was in his blood
from the beginning. His grandfather, a 30 year Marine, joined in WWII and also fought in Korea and Vietnam. His father joined the Navy in 1958 and served in Vietnam as a SEABee. He joined the military in May 1989 and served his country with pride for 22 years.
On a fateful day in May 2006 while on a foot patrol in Iraq, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet in the left knee. Even with his knee shattered, his first reaction was to return fire.
The damage to his knee, however, was significant and his leg had to be amputated above the knee within hours at a combat surgical hospital in Iraq.Now faced with an enormous challenge in recovery, Gibson took inspiration from his father, who also endured disabling injuries while serving in Vietnam. “My father was the biggest influence to rebound after amputation,” Gibson said. “I have observed him fighting to stay out of a wheelchair for as long as I can remember.”
He recovered quickly to the amazement of doctors and others around him. He rapidly went from crutches to a prosthetic leg and even began competing with other amputees in skiing and triathlon events.
“It is not much different than overcoming any obstacle. You can choose to quit or you can drive forward. My choice is forward.” – Master Sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson, Jr.
In Jan 2008 he returned to Iraq, making him the first full-leg amputee to ever return to a ground combat zone. He served with the 1st Marine Expeditionary force for ten months.
Throughout his continued service in the military and after, Master Sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson, Jr. has been an inspiration to thousands. He has helped fellow wounded warriors overcome both the physical and non-physical wounds of war.
In November 2008 he went from Iraq to Washington as part of the Congressional Fellowship Program. This highly selective, nonpartisan program is devoted to expanding knowledge and awareness of Congress itself, an honour usually reserved for officers.
His strength, determination and courage have resulted in many awards and honors. He was recognized personally by President George W Bush and nominated as one of the 10 most inspirational people of the year along with Paul Newman, Steve Curtis Chapman and Christina Applegate. He received letters of appreciation from all four living Presidents of which he served during his over 20-year career. He has made guest appearances on Fox, CBS, MSNBC, at the 2010 Super Bowl and the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. He has been featured in GQ Magazine, Triathlon Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Leatherneck Magazine, Marine Times, USO On Patrol as well as many numerous newspapers and magazines across the country
A Marine for 22 years, he retired on August 5, 2011.
Recently, Master Sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson, Jr., was an honoured guest at the Freedom Celebration at the Legendary Buffalo Chip during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The Freedom Celebration is an entire day dedicated to honour the brave men and women of the military past and present.
Today Master Sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson, Jr. continues to mentor wounded warriors. His ongoing efforts in helping his fellow warriors overcome the invisible wounds of war and encouraging them to lead productive, positive lives is truly inspiring and worthy of the definition ‘hero’.
Article to appear in April issue of New York Rider Magazine.