Iraq War Marine With Amputated Leg Back on Active Duty
Spanky Gibson was shot by a sniper in May of 2006 while on foot patrol in Ramadi, Iraq. When the firefight was over, his left leg was gone.
But Gunnery Sgt. William Gibson, a decorated Marine, didn't stop serving his country, even after his leg was amputated above the knee. He didn't settle for a desk job stateside, either. He's back in Iraq — his second tour — on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Friday, February 29, 2008
By Jennifer Griffin and Catherine Donaldson-Evans
"It's great — it's a great feeling," Gibson told FOX News in an exclusive interview at Camp Fallujah in Iraq.
It seems like yesterday that Gibson was cut down in a gunfight and left unable to walk without crutches and prosthetics.
"The first thing that went through my mind was, get my weapon out and function," he said. "I knew there was something seriously wrong with me — the round luckily enough severed the nerve, so there was no pain.
"Problem was, I could not get up and stand on my feet because of the destruction the round took."
Doctors had had no choice but to amputate, and Gibson says he steeled himself for the reality of learning to live without full use of his left leg — and moving forward one step at a time.
"I realized, well, it ain't growing back, so let's start recovering," he said. "Initially, I didn't allow it to affect me to the point of despair ... Now, I roll over and look at my wife and say, this kind of sucks. But you get over it quickly."
By July of 2006, only two months after his was shot, Gibson was back at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The experience was marked by a series of firsts: the first time he got back into his uniform; the first time he walked, with crutches on his new prosthetic leg; the first time he was back training with his fellow Marines. That's when he knew he had to go back to Iraq.
"That was my first step," he said, "the first step to feeling like I was still a Marine."
He remembers all the camaraderie and gratitude coming from the other servicemen and women for the sacrifices he'd made in combat. It was then, he said, when he knew he had to go on.
"I definitely felt the obligation to stay in the Marine Corps and pay back that honor," Gibson said. "Because it is an honor to wear the uniform, and I realized that very quickly."
So Gibson began training in earnest again — only with his new leg, not his old.
Last July when he was swimming in a race from Alcatraz in cold San Francisco waters, Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the Marine commander at Central Command, asked him what he wanted to do. Gibson said he wanted to go back to Iraq.
For the past five weeks, he's been there on what will likely be a tour of 12 to 13 months. He's serving with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., in the operations command. His job is coordinating weapons, including rockets, artillery and mortars, for the troops fighting out in the field.
And, said Gibson, he's impressed with what he sees.
"The country itself, it's changed tremendously," he said proudly. "I don't know if I ever thought I'd see it, but I hoped that our actions here ... would allow that change to happen, and now seeing it, it's amazing."
He characterized the situation in Iraq as a rebirth of a country, comparing it to the United States.
"This is where we were 232 years ago as a new nation," he said. "Now they're starting a new nation, and that's one of my big reasons for coming back here. It wasn't for other Marines to look at me and say, 'Oh wow, you're a tough guy.'
"It's in part to show appreciation to my fallen Marines and also to tell the people of this country that ... I'm back to help you in any way I can, again."
Gibson said he's the third Marine amputee to deport back to his sector. Twenty-one months after his injury, his fellow servicemen and women look out for him — and he tries to do only what he's able so he doesn't put them in harm's way.
He said his wife Chany and 4-year-old daughter Lauren misses him back home in Pryor, Okla., but Chany has been very supportive.
"There's not one regret in any of this," Gibson insisted. "It's opened things for me, it's opened up relationships for me that I never would have had as just a normal, old Marine. It's great."