Sam Gibbons

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Sam Gibbons
Sam Melville Gibbons.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 10th, 6th, 7th and 11th district
In office
1963–1997
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by Jim Davis
Personal details
Born Sam Melville Gibbons
(1920-01-20)January 20, 1920
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
Died October 10, 2012(2012-10-10) (aged 92)
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Martha Hanley
Betty King Culbreath

Sam Melville Gibbons (January 20, 1920 – October 10, 2012) was a politician from the state of Florida, who served in the Florida State House of Representatives, Florida State Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Early life and education[edit]

Gibbons was born in Tampa, Florida on January 20, 1920. He graduated from H. B. Plant High School, where he was part of JROTC, and then went on to the University of Florida. After serving as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne during World War II, including landing behind enemy lines on D-Day, Gibbons attended the University of Florida School of Law, graduating in 1947. Gibbons joined four generations of his family practicing law in Tampa. He went on to marry Martha Hanley, and have three sons; Clifford Sam, Mark Hanley, and Timothy Melville. After 55 years of marriage, Martha died of cancer in 2002; Sam then married his old high school sweetheart Betty King Culbreath.

Military career[edit]

After the outbreak of World War II, Gibbons joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant in late 1941. He attained the rank of Captain in the 101st Airborne before entering combat in June 1944. At 1:00 a.m. on D-day, June 6, 1944, Capt. Gibbons, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, arrived by parachute near Carentan, France on the Cotentin Peninsula. On June 13, 1944, the main German forces counterattacked south of Carentan, in a battle between German tanks and the American paratroopers lasting all day, 6 am to 10 pm, the paratroopers gave ground, defending in depth, and bent but did not break before restoring the pre-dawn line of defense. Of the 600 paratroopers that began that day fewer than 400 soldiers remained. Gibbons could count a dozen burning tanks from his view of the battlefield. The battle was portrayed in episode 2 of Band of Brothers. On June 30 the 101st was withdrawn to England becoming the first battle-tested troops to return. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in Normandy. Gibbons and the rest of the 101st went on to successfully take the first bridge in the operation in the Netherlands known as Operation Market Garden (described in Cornelius Ryan's book A Bridge Too Far). In December 1944 the 101st was in reserve when orders came down to load up on trucks and move to Bastogne to hold and await resupply. Against very long odds the 101st held successfully with dwindling supplies, once famously telling the German commander "Nuts" in response to a surrender request. Several movies have been made concerning the "Battle of the Bulge." The 101st moved on to lead the way into Germany and eventually take Hitler's Eagle's Nest before meeting up with the advancing Red Army. Gibbons served in the European campaign until the end of the war. Shortly before German forces surrendered, Capt. Gibbons was promoted to Major; however, a communications delay prevented Gibbons from learning of his promotion until after he had been honorably discharged. Upon returning home to Florida he wrote "I was there" (which has since been translated into French.) He was awarded the French Medal of Valor in 2004 at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial during the 60th anniversary of D-day.

Political life[edit]

Gibbons was a member of the Democratic Party and he served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1953 to 1958. While in the state legislature, he spearheaded the effort to create the University of South Florida. He then served in the Florida Senate from 1959 to 1962.

He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1962 from a newly created district based in Tampa, and was reelected 16 times. The district changed numbers three times during his tenure, from the 10th (1963–1967) to the 6th (1967–1973) to the 7th (1973–1993) to the 11th (1993–1997). He usually skated to reelection in what was generally reckoned as the only Democratic bastion on Florida's Gulf Coast. However, in 1992, he was held to only 52 percent of the vote by Republican Mark Sharpe. Two years later, he was nearly defeated, only winning by 4,700 votes.

With Sharpe priming for yet another rematch in 1996, Gibbons opted not to run for an 18th term. He thus retired having never been defeated in 44 years as an elected official. He was succeeded by State Representative Jim Davis, whom he'd endorsed as his successor, and had also been a supporter of the current representative, Kathy Castor.

Gibbons was acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1994 until the Democrats lost control of the House in 1995. Prior to leading the full committee, Gibbons chaired the subcommittee on trade. He was much more supportive of trade liberalization throughout his career than most House Democrats, who have leaned toward protectionism since the early 1970s.

Gibbons had a few verbal showdowns with the newly elected Republican congress during his last term. During a taped Ways and Means Committee hearing, after being denied the opportunity to speak several times, Gibbons stormed out of the room shouting about how the Democrats were being railroaded and given no time to speak. He compared the new Republicans to dictators and shouted that he had "to fight you guys 50 years ago," referring to Nazi Germany in World War II.

Gibbons died October 10, 2012, aged 92.[1] He was interred at Myrtle Hill Memorial Park in Tampa.[2]

The United States Courthouse at 611 North Florida Avenue in Tampa was named in honor of Gibbons.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sam Gibbons, congressman and 'true American hero,' dies at age 92
  2. ^ Find a Grave
  3. ^ An Act to Designate the United States Courthouse under Construction at 611 North Florida Avenue in Tampa, Florida, as the "Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse."

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
District Created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 10th congressional district

1963–1967
Succeeded by
J. Herbert Burke
Preceded by
Paul G. Rogers
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 6th congressional district

1967–1973
Succeeded by
Bill Young
Preceded by
James A. Haley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 7th congressional district

1973–1993
Succeeded by
John Mica
Preceded by
Jim Bacchus
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 11th congressional district

1993–1997
Succeeded by
Jim Davis
Political offices
Preceded by
Dan Rostenkowski
Illinois
Chairman of House Ways and Means Committee
1994–1995
Succeeded by
Bill Archer
Texas