The Allied invasion of Western Europe began 69 years ago this week. Within a year, Germany surrendered and the war was over. Tucson contributed many soldiers, sailors and airmen to the cause.
While a photographer at the Tucson Citizen in 1994, I was lucky enough to photograph Tucson barber Johnny Gibson for a story on the 50th anniversary of the invasion. Gibson was a medic with the 101st Airborne who jumped behind enemy lines during the invasion.
I visited his barber shop downtown. He was only 5 feet, 4 inches, but was a rock with a devastating handshake, immaculate dress and a beaming, confident manner. I could not get any photos at the shop that did justice to his war service. I asked if he could come to the photo studio, and if he had it, would he bring his Army uniform?
He walked into the photo studio wearing the uniform with service medals and his Purple Heart dangling from the left pocket. He said it was the first time he'd worn the uniform since his discharge. It fit perfectly.
Gibson died in 2010. From the obit story by Star writer Bonnie Henry:
"Volunteering as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, he jumped as a medic in the Normandy invasion in June of 1944, was taken prisoner and worked in a makeshift German evacuation hospital.
Liberated in August 1944, he rejoined his old outfit, where he jumped into Holland and fought for 72 days straight.
Serving in blizzard conditions during the Battle of the Bulge, he suffered frozen feet and continuous shelling. On Jan. 9, 1945, shrapnel penetrated his lung and liver, and he was hospitalized for 11 months.
His awards include the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster."
– Rick Wiley