[Editor’s Note: George Hibbs, U.S. Vietnam War, Veteran, has been chosen as the Parade Marshal for the 2018 Memorial Day Parade in Hawley, set for Sunday, May 27 at 1 p.m. Eight years ago, George was interviewed by Steve McConnell, who was reporter at that time at The Wayne Independent, wrote the following story about Hibbs and his service for the country. The story originally appeared May 23, 2009. Some added information, not in the original story, follows.]
HAWLEY (May 23, 2009) -George Hibbs has lived many roles in life, all of which formed the man known by quite a few residents of the Hawley community today.
He patrolled the streets as borough police chief, happily married, raised two children, still plays softball in a local league.
And he is enjoying retirement, after 21 years at Tobyhanna Army Depot.
You wouldn’t know it though, unless you caught him spinning a yarn, that Hibbs also spent one year in Vietnam, as an enlisted Marine.
“I’ve been back 41 years - lived a normal life,” said Hibbs, [who is now 72], in an interview with The Wayne Independent. “I just thank the good Lord, he helped me make it through.”
It was September 1, 1968 when that chapter of his young life began, a 22-year old from the Angels community of Wayne County, near its southernmost tip.
A world away, a culture apart, he landed in Da Nang, a small hamlet next to the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.
With the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines division, he was a mortarman, among other duties, responsible for carrying and firing a 60-mm cannon-like weapon that launched heavy, explosive shells upon the Vietcong.
“Everyday was a close call,” he said. “It could be complete boredom and then in a second, the most terrifying time you had in your life. All we did was react. It was the only way you could survive.”
Through 13 trying months, Hibbs made his way among the swampy, rice paddies, bamboo stands, and jungles of Vietnam nearly unscathed.
One enemy mortar almost took his life: it exploded so close to him that the force ripped his backpack right off his shoulders, later requiring one rib to be removed so he could breathe easier.
Hibbs had many more of these terrifying days and nights - too many to recount - awaiting or experiencing the moment of combat, laying low upon the dirt, a “bush rat” with an M16 rifle in hand, a cherished second between living or dying. The present is all that mattered - nothing else along those crossroads of fate.
“You’re going through the bush man. You don’t know where their at. You can’t see at night from me to you,” he recalled. “I had nightmares for awhile (afterwards). ... I try not to think about it too much. Thank God I never lost a man ... a lot of close calls ... a lot of my friends didn’t make it.”
He had good times, also.
On one occasion, a fellow soldier approached him, saying: “Corporal Hibbs, your old man wants to see you.”
When the old man wants to see you that usually means the commanding officer, said Hibbs.
So he went to see his commanding officer, who was in on the joke.
“My dad came walking out of the other room,” said Hibbs.
His father, Wilmer “Red” Hibbs, a Tobyhanna Army Depot employee, had been to Vietnam twice before, repairing military equipment.
He volunteered to go again and was able to meet up with his son on Christmas Day in Vietnam.
They ate mulligan stew together and bantered about family and friends.
“It kind of gave you that little extra shot” of morale, he said. “My mother was a nervous wreck.”
Today, he has no regrets for serving in a war that became more of a controversy at the time to some, rather than a justified conflict.
“It was hard to adjust” coming back to the states, he said, “especially when they spit on you and called you a baby killer.”
He hopes today’s public understands the importance of the Vietnam veterans - what they meant to the American cause.
“I just hope people get a different outlook,” he said. “With communism, you (a reporter) wouldn’t be sitting here with me today.”
George Hibbs graduated from Wallenpaupack Area High School in 1966. He and his wife Lindsay live in Hawley. They have two grown children, Judy Hibbs Noldy, and Jason Hibbs, as well as two grandchildren, August and Lindsay.
Hibbs served two years as commander and also served as an adjutant for the Hawley American Legion Wilson-Kelch Post 311, and is still on the board.
In 2012, he had his prostrate removed and is being treated for Type II diabetes. Hibbs said these were linked to Agent Orange, the herbicide and defoliant sprayed by American Armed Forces on Vietnamese forests, in an attempt to rout out the enemy. Hibbs stated that he is “cancer free” and that the Veterans Administration is taking care of him.
He said he was humbled and very surprised when he was told he had been picked as this year’s Parade Marshal in his town of Hawley. As far as serving in the military, he stated, “It was my obligation. We’re all Americans.” Hibbs said that he was asked to be Parade Marshal, he said, “It would be an honor for me to do that.”