A 78-year-old farmer, legislator and decorated veteran is remembering what’s often called the "forgotten war" on this Memorial Day weekend. Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg, the current president of the Iowa Senate, was awarded the bronze star for his service in Korea. "I was drafted along with a lot more of my friends," Kibbie says. "In October of 1951 I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and from there went to Korea in June of ’53 and was there until June of ’53."
Kibbie was one of 85,000 Iowans who were called to serve in the military during the Korean conflict. The war began on June 25, 1950 and ended with an armistice signed on July 27, 1953 — a little over a month after Kibbie left Korea.
Kibbie was commander of a tank, positioned on a ridge to defend a unit of American soldiers at night. The unit was sitting on the 38th Parallel — the dividing line between North and South Korea. "We were on a hill there that was occupied only by a Quad50, which is a track vehicle and an outpost for the Air Force and our tank," Kibbie says. "Basically what we did, every night at five o’clock we joined the infantry for a briefing and then we protected them at night when they went on patrol. We were less than a quarter mile from the enemy."
Even though Kibbie was commanding the tank, news articles from the era refer to Kibbee as one of the "sharpest shooters" on the 38th Parallel. Every night, it was just Kibbie and another soldier in that tank, switching off on sniper duty. The tank had been used in World War Two. "We called ’em M8s. They were powered by V8 Ford gasoline engines, three-speed transmission, 76 millimeter guns, (and a) five-man crew," Kibbie says. "We were never fully-staffed. I think it was just mostly there just (weren’t) enough people to go around."
Night-vision devices hadn’t been invented 55 years ago when Kibbie was in Korea, but Kibbie was credited in news accounts of the period with having excellent vision at night. Kibbie, however, credits the powerful periscope he borrowed from the Air Force outpost right beside his tank. "We had a telephone to the tank and my gunner — Gerald Keller from Keosauqua, Iowa — why, that helped us to get in on targets very close and so we were credited with having a lot of target hits…for protecting the infantry that were out there at night," Kibbie says. "That’s very serious what they do."
That infantry unit’s commander is the one who nominated Kibbie for the Bronze Star, which Kibbie received for his nighttime protection of the unit. "We had mortars coming in about every night and in the daytime it was very dangerous for the infantry from snipers from the enemy so you do what you’re told and hopefully all the people around you do what they’re told," Kibbie says. "We were about 1400-1500 feet above sea level. The 38th parallel, you know, it goes through Iowa here about Osceola area, but there’s mountains (in Korea) so….there were some cold winters there. It was a different kind of war."
After his service in Korea, Kibbie went back to farming. One of Kibbie’s daughter has made the Air Force her career and Kibbie says he has no real regrets about his own service. "Like most Americans, you’re drafted, you do what you’re told," Kibbie says. "I wouldn’t want to do it again."
Kibbie will be the featured speaker at the Memorial Day observance in Emmetsburg, where he lives today. Kibbie also plans to go back to nearby Ayrshire, the hometown he left at age 22 to serve in Korea. "All Iowans need to get out and participate in Memorial Day functions and thank the veterans and their families who have made this country what it is," Kibbie says.
Kibbie will be the guest on this evening’s Iowa Journal on Iowa Public Television and he’ll talk about his service in Korea. The program airs at 6:30 p.m.