1st Lt. Emmett Francis Gibson was born on September 15, 1916, to Daniel & Frieda Gibson in Illinois. As a child, he and his brother grew up at 227 South 12th Avenue, Maywood, Illinois. Emmett attended grade school in Maywood and Proviso Township High School. His mother would later marry Joseph Craig.
On October 17, 1933, Emmett enlisted in the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company in Maywood. To enlist, he had to get his mother’s signature since he was only sixteen years old. He transferred from the Illinois National Guard to the District of Columbia National Guard on May 7, 1935. In Washington D. C., he worked as a messenger at the patent office. When he knew he was being transferred to Chicago, to work as an inspector in June 1938, he resigned from D.C. National Guard on May 30, 1938. When he returned to Maywood. he rejoined the tank company on November 2, 1938. It is known he was married, October 9, 1936, and resided at 1025 South Tenth Avenue with his wife, Anna, and his daughter, Carol.
In November 1940, the 33rd Tank Company was called to federal duty. When the company was federalized, it became Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. Emmett and the other company members went to Kentucky and trained at Fort Knox. During this time. Emmett was commissioned a second lieutenant and was B Company’s maintenance officer.
The battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. They had no idea that the decision to send them overseas was made in the middle of August. Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.
While the battalion was training, an event took place, that summer, that determined its future. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles away, which had a large radio transmitter on it. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed that evening, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California over different train routes, and was taken by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance., and prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, at 8:30, the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed to be refueled, line up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch in the mess hall. At 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Danny lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
At some point, he was transferred to Headquarters Company of the 192nd. When war came, Emmett was assigned as Liaison Officer between the four, letter companies and HQ.
Five days later on December 13, 1941, Emmett and Capt. Fred Bruni of HQ Company was walking together and talking. Gibson had had a premonition of his own death. What really bothered him was that it was his daughter’s birthday. Bruni tried to get Gibson’s mind off the idea by talking about the north woods of Wisconsin and fishing there. Suddenly the two men were strafed. Seven Japanese fighters had appeared over the airfield. Gibson jumped into a half-track that was hidden under a tree and grabbed its machine gun. Bruni told Gibson to stay where he was and that he would direct Gibson’s fire.
That afternoon, a second attack took place. This time there were seven Japanese bombers. Gibson climbed onto a half-track and grabbed its .50 caliber machine gun. Bruni called out to Gibson, “Stay there, and I’ll direct your fire.” Bruni walked out into the open with bombs exploding around him. He proceeded to direct Gibson’s fire at the Japanese bombers as bombs exploded around him. Gibson opened fire where Fred told him to do so. Together, they were credited with shooting down one of the bombers.
During the Battle of the Philippines, Emmett was assigned to command the motorcycle messengers for General Wainwright. Emmett eventually acted as a messenger himself. As part of his duties, Emmett stole a tractor that was sitting alongside a road because it was needed by the American forces.
One day, Emmett and his driver Pvt. Harold Fanning left Angeles for San Fernando. On the way, they gave a ride to a Filipino woman who was attempting to locate her husband. This resulted in them going to Santa Anna. There, Emmett took pity on the friends of the woman because they had nothing to eat. Not too far from the town, Emmett met Capt. Fred Bruni who was a member of the 192nd from Janesville, Wisconsin. Capt. Bruni gave Emmett food for the family.
After returning to Santa Anna with the food, Emmett, Pvt. Fanning and the young woman left the town, in a drenching rain, for San Fernando. It was evening and it got dark very quickly. To give his driver a break, Emmett was driving.
As they approached a bridge about five kilometers outside of San Fernando near Mexico, a busload of Filipino soldiers loomed up out of the dark in front of them. Since both vehicles were driving without lights, neither driver could see the other until the last minute. There was not enough room for both vehicles on the bridge so Emmett slammed on the jeep’s breaks. The jeep skidded and slammed into the truck.
Fanning flew out of the jeep and Emmett’s left leg was crushed on impact. The Filipino woman also suffered a broken leg. Only Pvt. Fanning came out of the accident with minor injuries, but the three were taken to San Fernando to a temporary hospital.
Emmett was next taken to the Philippine Women’s College in Manila. While a patient there, he and the other patients could hear the bombs exploding that were being dropped by Japanese planes. The patients lay in bed wondering if they would be the next to be bombed.
While in the hospital, Emmett met Lt. Richard Danca. Lt. Danca was in the hospital suffering from a nervous condition that paralyzed his legs. He would later return to combat and be wounded.
American forces began to withdraw from the city and the soldiers, in the hospital, began to wonder if they would be left to the Japanese. It was at that time that the Japanese commanding officer agreed to allow one ship out of Manila carrying wounded. The conditions of the deal were the ship could only carry wounded and nothing of military value.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, asked if there were any ships available in the harbor and was told there were two. One was a lumber schooner which was not fit for the open sea. The other, the S.S. Mactan, had been used for inter-island travel for years and had been condemned. MacArthur ordered that the Mactan be made ready, and within two days it had been painted white, by Filipino workers, and red crosses were painted on its sides.
On December 31, 1941, the patients were informed that the Japanese had agreed to allow a ship to leave Manila with the wounded. Emmett and other patients were moved to the docks to be put on the Mactan. The ship was only about 2000 tons and was infested with copra beetles, red ants, and cockroaches. The patients were placed on mattresses on the deck of the ship because there was no room for them below deck.
At ten o’clock at night, the ship sailed and zig-zagged its way through the harbor to avoid mines. As it left Manila, the patients could see and hear the explosions of gasoline storage tanks and ammunition dumps being dynamited by American troops. The patients had not been told about their destination so when the silhouette of Corregidor loomed out of the darkness they believed this was their destination. When the island began to fade into the darkness, the patients knew for the first time that they were being sent to Australia.
The ship headed south, in Japanese controlled waters, and the wounded expected that any time it would be hit by a torpedo. On January 7, it arrived at Makassar, East Dutch Indies, and a Dutch pilot came aboard to dock the ship. While there, a plane was spotted and air raid sirens and alarms sounded. It turned out that the plane was from a friendly country. The men on the ship learned later that the pier where they were docked was mined and almost blown up while the ship was docked to it.
The ship’s crew and medical staff attempted to get supplies but were unsuccessful. On January 11, the ship sailed and again took a southerly route. At this point, the freshwater was shut off and water and food were rationed. Two days later, on the 13th, the ship arrived at Darwin, Australia, and again attempted to get supplies. As it turned out, Darwin was rationing what it had and could not spare any supplies for the ship.
On January 14, the ship sailed again. The next day, whistles and alarms began blowing on the ship. The soldiers learned that there was a fire in the engine room and were issued life jackets. As it turned out the waters they were in was infested with sharks. The ship’s crew put out the fire but one engine room crew member was badly burned.
The ship ran into a typhoon on January 16 and rode it out. Two days later, the men heard that a Japanese radio broadcast had been intercepted that claimed the Mactan had been sunk at sea resulting in the deaths of all on board. The ship arrives at Townsville, Australia, on the 20th and seven bags of cement were brought aboard. It turned out it was used on the ships hull to waterproof it. The next day, food, water, clean linens, and medicine were brought aboard.
The ship sailed on the 23rd and arrived at Brisbane, Australia, the next day. While there, the men drank milk and were fed. It sailed on the 25th for Sydney, finally arriving there on January 27. The wounded and sick were told that a new hospital, 113th Australian General Hospital, had opened ten miles from Sydney, and they would be transported there.
After being hospitalized in Australia, Emmett returned to the United States, in June 1942, and was sent to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, for further medical treatment. Emmett was somewhat of a celebrity and spoke to the families of the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion in both Maywood and Janesville. Emmett did not consider himself a hero and often spoke of the men, who were now Prisoners of War, as the true war heroes.
After recovering, he was reassigned to the Armored School at Fort Knox where he was promoted to Captain. He remained at Fort Knox fighting to stay in the army because his injury had left his injured leg an inch shorter than his other leg.
In February 1945, Emmett was released from active duty and returned to Maywood. His one regret was that he had not been able to remain with the other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
Emmett’s first marriage ended in divorce on March 8, 1944, and his ex-wife was given custody of his daughter. On January 17, 1953, he married his second wife, Jenna. After divorcing Jenna, Emmett married Margery on January 15, 1955.
Emmett F. Gibson was a police officer with the Maywood Police Department when he died from a brain tumor on July 13, 1958. His last request was to be cremated and have his ashes scattered at the battle sites on Bataan. On April 9, 1959, on the seventeenth anniversary of the fall of Bataan, his wish was carried out, and his ashes were scattered on the battlefields of Bataan by helicopter. The urn, that had contained his ashes, was dropped into Manila Bay.