VFW, Wise cadets salute ROTC's Gibson

Stephen Igo • May 2, 2018 at 4:45 PM

WISE — Anthony Willis, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8652 in Coeburn, got a bit miffed when state-level honchos behind a VFW Teacher of the Year award declined to appoint Capt. David Gibson for the honor.

On Tuesday, Willis told those gathered at the Wise County Career & Technical Center that he “wanted to know why” and was informed it was because there wasn’t enough documentation to carry the day. The bane of warriors everywhere strikes again: paperwork.

“If it wasn’t for his retirement,” Willis said, knowing what his post now knows about that doggone paperwork thing, “I believe he would win state this (coming) year.”

Gibson, the longtime teacher of Wise County Public Schools’ Air Force ROTC program, was nominated for the honor and made it to state-level consideration when he was the choice at both the local and district VFW levels. But Gibson’s truest award has been the honor to serve as an ROTC teacher of the year, every one of his 14 WCPS years, where it always mattered the most: in his own classroom.

Ill health that commenced in March, rather than any retirement inclinations, triggered Gibson’s decision to retire June 1 from a WCPS position where he always sought to make a positive difference in the 14 years’ worth of ROTC cadets he holds in highest regard.

“I’m thankful,” Gibson said of his AFROTC tenure in Wise County as well as the local VFW honor he received Tuesday. “I think other teachers deserve it as much or better than I do. But the real honor goes to these kids. They’re the ones who do the work. Seeing these kids succeed in their future careers and life, that’s the amazing part. That’s the true reward.”

Gibson pointed to Robert Stidham, the substitute who stepped in to lead the program when Gibson was felled by health problems, assisted with gusto by Stidham’s mother, Lisa. Stidham was once one of Gibson’s students and Stidham’s mother is, well, a mom. That’s generally regarded as a rank or two above four star general in most quarters.

“Robert was one of my former corps commanders, and he came in and has done a remarkable job,” Gibson said. “And Lisa, well, she’s the corps’ mom. I tell you, she tells them to do something and they hop to it. Without those two, this program would probably have had no leadership these last couple of months.”

CTC Principal William Austin said Tuesday’s salute to Gibson was well deserved.

“It is quite an honor what the VFW and those cadets are doing here today,” Austin said. “He is quite deserving. Capt. Gibson has always been a positive influence on these young people. They are certainly always a group you can be proud of, and of course I attribute that to Capt. Gibson and some of our other ROTC leaders who have assisted him over the years.”

Cadets and Willis presented Gibson with a crystal apple proclaiming Gibson a teacher of the year, Richmond be hanged, along with a few other mementoes. Cadet Capt. Damian Barnett, group commander of this year’s corps of cadets, said future cadets will never know what they’ll miss.

“Mr. Gibson has always been that shoulder to turn to. That person you could always talk to. The one you can always depend, no matter what,” Barnett said. “He is just a very, very honorable man.”

Like a salute, honor among those who served is returned in kind, and snappily so.

“It is an honor,” Gibson addressed the group a final time, “for me to be here today.”

And for all who were, it most certainly was.

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