A 21-year-old farmer from Emmetsburg, Iowa, Jack Kibbie was drafted by the U.S. Army in the summer of 1951. His unit was called up in October of that year, and he was sent to Korea in June of 1952. He served there for a year, leaving just one month before the peace treaty was negotiated.
In telling the story today, Kibbie points out that he got to Korea after what he considers the worst part of the war – the combat earlier had been furious with the Chinese, and many hundreds were killed.
Kibbie’s task was to work with the tanks, first as a private, then moving up to a Sergeant First Class, all in only 9 months’ time.
He worked with the 45th Division, the Oklahoma National Guard, which was constantly rotating staff from the U.S. He says he drove the tank from one end of Korea to the other, but mainly guarding the 38th parallel.
He spent the most time near the eastern side of the Peninsula, at a place called “Heartbreak Ridge.”
The daily routine was to fight off enemy snipers all night, crawl through a hatch into the bunker, get some sleep, and if they were lucky, get one warm meal before returning to the tank for more fighting.
The tank’s role was to fend of snipers to protect the infantry, a mix of marines, army, and air force personnel. There were 5 positions inside the tanks, but Kibbie points out that most of the time they didn’t have enough people to man all the positions, so they all became good at everything and switched positions throughout the night.
Headlines back home in Emmetsburg proclaimed Kibbie the “Best Sharpshooter in Korea.” He’s modest about the title, saying he relied on information phoned to him from nearby Air Force friends – who had better viewing equipment.
The soldiers were located, and did most of their fighting, at the top of a hill, shooting an enemy only about 1000 feet away on another hill. The valley in-between originally was a forest, but by the time they were done, it had been entirely burned away.
When he returned home to Iowa, Sgt. First Class Kibbie was given a warm welcome. He says, that like other veterans, he’s glad he did his service, but he sure wouldn’t want to do it again.
He continued farming, and in 1960 was voted into the Iowa legislature. He served there for several terms, then took a 20 year ‘leave of absence.’
Then, in 1988, he again headed for the Capitol building, where he’s been a senator ever since. Today, he is President of the Iowa Senate.