Former Marine tells harrowing tale of survival

Thursday, April 24th 2008, 1:08 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

In the spring of 1945, Allied forces were marching confidently to Berlin with the Third Reich of the Nazi military on the verge of collapse. Halfway across the world in the Pacific, the war looked and felt like a very different story.

A fierce war was still occuring in the Pacific, with thousands of Americans dying every month. Arlo Gibson was in the thick of the war in the Pacific. A born and bred Hardesty man, Gibson was already tough as nails arriving on the island of Okinawa; but what he survived during his time at war was legendary.

The Americans and Japanese military remained locked in bloody battle -- and on the island of Okinawa, the battle was raging.

On May 1, over a month into the battle, Gibson and his men were sent to relieve the beleaguered 27th Infantry Division of the Army.

"We was goin' down a wagon trail, they was comin' up one side, we was goin' down the other. Man, they looked like they had had it," said Gibson. "[They] looked terrible, and I can understand why."

Three days later, while digging out a spot for his Browning Automatic Rifle, Gibson came under fire.

With fire all around him, a bullet hit him in the neck and he began to lose a lot of blood. By the time he was brought to the First Aid station, he was in dire need of medical attention.

"They went to give me some blood and they said 'Where's your dog tags?' I never took my dog tags off, not ever and I told them it was around my neck," he said.

But the dog tags were missing and without dog tags, the first-aid station could do nothing for Gibson. They sent him to a field hospital where he again got the same question.

"Same thing there, ‘Where's your dog tags?  We can't give you any blood unless you've got your dog tags,'" he said.

Frustrated and dying, the 20-year-old Gibson laid helplessly on the operating table.

"[I was] looking up at the big round lights that they used to have and that's the last I remember."

Gibson passed out, and the doctors made a critical decision.

"They thought I was a goner or didn't have a chance, at least."

But the doctors were wrong, and Gibson woke up the next morning, clear-headed and in great pain. He stood up and yelped loudly, bringing the attention of a nurse. The nurse was surprised to see Gibson alive and relatively alert, pointing out that he was not in a hospital but a morgue tent.

The nurse not only found Gibson, but she found his dog tags. The bullet had hit Gibson in the neck and passed through his body, exiting out of his shoulder blade, he said. Gibson believes the path of the bullet must have sliced off the chain to his tags, dropping them down his shirt. Now with his tags in hand, he was able to receive the treatment he needed to live.

Sixty-three years later, with his wife Martha by his side, Gibson attributes his survival to a couple of things -- the marines who carried him off the battlefield and a miracle.

"I really feel that I was and am very blessed," he said.