“To tell you the truth, I am overwhelmed,” Harold C. “Gib” Gibson said about the recent notoriety bestowed on him by friends, community members, and town and county officials.
Last weekend, during a surprise birthday party for him attended by more than 90 people, representatives of both the town and county made a presentation: from now on, his birthday, Aug. 16, will be known as Harold C. Gibson Day.
“It’s overwhelming,” Gibson gratefully repeated.
On the first annual Harold C. Gibson Day, Gibson will turn 93 years old. While most people look back on their lives by flipping through pages of picture books containing their own picture, Gibson flips through pictures of planes he’s flown — over 100 different types.
“That one was popular. They flew those in Vietnam,” Gibson says of the F-100. “I didn’t like it that much.”
Single engine, dual propeller, the F-89, P-47, gliders, and the planes he spent most of his time with during WW II — the B-25 bombers — planes that flew at speeds varying from 60 to 1,500 mph ... they are all familiar to Gibson.
“All the planes are good in their purpose,” Gibson says. “But there’s a couple that weren’t my favorite.”
Some, though, were a lot of fun. Flying at an altitude of nearly 10 miles, Gibson says he could almost see the curve of the earth. At that height, he’s flying around Mach 2, but he doesn’t recall there being a real sense of speed.
For Gibson, flying is almost as natural as walking.
“Not to sound dramatic, but the plane is like a part of me,” Gibson says.
Last week, he took some of his visiting family up in a plane and flew around Pagosa Peak. Next week, he’s flying down to Phoenix where he’ll pick up one of his friends from flight school.
“It’s a very convenient means of transportation,” he says, and who could argue with a round trip to Phoenix in only six hours? As a kid, though, it was fun, and it was something that, once he flew, he knew he would always do.
Learning how to fly while in college in Southern California, Gibson joined the Army Air Corps, precursor to the U.S. Air Force, thinking it would provide him the financial means to get his commercial pilot’s license. He signed up for one year active service duty and five years reserve duty.
“Then, the war came along,” Gibson says, and, as for most, everything changed. He stayed with the Corps and the Air Force for 30 years. By the time he retired, in a ceremony with 18 other pilots who all began their careers during WW II, Gibson was a full colonel, had been a base commander, had a Pentagon assignment, and was chief of safety at the Colorado Springs headquarters of the Air Defense Command.
For 73 years, Gibson has been flying airplanes. During those years, not one accident. Only two landings with failed engines.
“It wasn’t scary. You’re so pumped,” Gibson says. What you know to do takes over.
As far as military service goes, Gibson says there are many other people in the town more deserving of recognition. In his opinion, his only claim to fame is shooting down a MIG fighter in Korea. That, and surviving. For it is due to what Gibson calls “the fates of war” that he’s alive today.
Right out of flight school, Gibson recalls, graduates were asked to stand up if they would like to be a fighter pilot. Gibson, and several other young men stood up. Too many. The commander asked that all those more than six feet tall sit down. Gibson sat. Gibson explains that, then, fighter planes were thought of as best for shorter men. Out of the men who remained standing, Gibson can only remember three who survived the war. Most, he says, died somewhere in the Philippines.
“It was a matter of two inches, or I might have gone and never come back from the Philippines,” Gibson says.
But, he was taller ... and he has survived, getting ready to celebrate his 93rd birthday.
He says that flying out of Pagosa is wonderful, “the most beautiful place around.” However, in the strong winds, the mountains become very tricky.
Of flying, Gibsons says “it’s very rewarding and personally gratifying.
“You must be disciplined. You can’t just sit there,” he says.
And after making sure everything is done right, he’ll land the plane and with satisfaction think, “I did it again.”