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The midnight ride of John Gibson
Late Georgia congressman had key role in passage of G.I. Bill
Gibson John
John Gibson - photo by SPECIAL PHOTO
Growing up, Walter Gibson heard magnificent stories about his grand-uncle, John Gibson.
The current Bulloch County commissioner was told about his renowned arguments as a prosecutor in Douglas, Ga., his tenure as a U.S. congressman and even about his key role in helping pass the first G.I. Bill prior to the end of World War II.
But until lately, Gibson said he didn’t fully appreciate the significance of John Gibson’s contribution to ensuring the millions of vets coming home from fighting in Europe and the Pacific would have an opportunity for a college education.
“You know, since 1944, tens of millions of Americans have gone to college on the G.I. Bill,” Walter Gibson said. “It really changed the education possibilities for so many Americans then and future generations today. Uncle John, from little ol’ south Georgia, was a part of shaping that future.”
Last month, the National Headquarters of the American Legion acknowledged John Gibson’s contribution to the passage of the G.I. Bill with a special tribute during the group’s Executive Committee meeting on Oct. 18 in Indianapolis. Walter Gibson and his uncle, Dr. Marvin Gibson, John Gibson’s son, attended the 20-minute ceremony where they presented the American Legion a portrait of John Gibson. Prior to unveiling the portrait, the committee watched a 10-minute video about the life of John Gibson and his crucial part in enacting the G.I. Bill.
“It really was a moving ceremony,” Walter Gibson said. “The Legion office couldn’t have been more gracious and kind in honoring Uncle John. And I don’t mind saying, he deserved it.”
John Gibson was born in Charlton County in 1893, the youngest of 13 children. He and another brother were the only two to “escape the farm,” said Marvin Gibson, who sat down for an interview with the Herald in September. John Gibson went to Douglas Business Normal School and became a teacher. He studied law through LaSalle Correspondence College and passed the bar exam on his first try because he had a “photographic memory,” Marvin Gibson said.
In the 1920s he received an appointment as solicitor in Douglas city court and it was there he earned a reputation as a tough and theatrical prosecutor.
“Back in those days, people used to come to the courthouse to watch trials as sort of entertainment,” Walter Gibson said. “I was told stories about some legendary courtroom battles he had with defense attorney Buck Blalock. People would come from miles around to watch those two go at it, I heard.”
Marvin Gibson, who built a career as a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in Washington, D.C., said his father was a man who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Walter Gibson said his great-uncle would “sometimes use salty language in telling tales, but never around ladies.”
John Gibson won a seat in Congress in 1940 and was re-elected in 1942 and 1944. It was during his second term that debate about a bill to help returning soldiers from World War II not only adjust to life back home, but to prosper, as well.

Gibson was one of the leading proponents of the bill, due in large part, Marvin Gibson believes, to his personal experience with education.

“Dad knew how much going to college benefited him,” Dr. Gibson said. “He wanted all those boys coming home to have a chance at the opportunities he had. Back then, not a lot of people went to college and most who did had a good bit of money.”

John Gibson served on the House committee charged with crafting the G.I. Bill. After many months of debate, a comprehensive bill that would provide housing, education and job benefits to vets was ready to get out of committee and onto the House floor for passage.

“You’d think this would have been a relatively easy thing to do to help the troops,” Marvin Gibson said.

But there was a problem. Gibson had returned home to Douglas after giving his proxy to Mississippi Congressman John Rankin to vote for the bill.

Rankin, however, refused to vote his proxy because the bill contained equal unemployment benefits for whites and blacks. His action would have resulted in a deadlock, which would kill the bill in committee. On Friday, June 9, 1944, three days after the D-Day invasion began, a final vote was scheduled for the next morning. The bill’s fate appeared sealed, but then came the “Midnight Ride of John Gibson.”

(The full details of Gibson’s amazing journey to Washington can be found here.)

Gibson arrived in time and his presence carried the bill to passage.

Within the following 7 years, approximately 8 million veterans received educational benefits. Of that number, approximately 2,300,000 attended colleges and universities, 3,500,000 received school training, and 3,400,000 received on-the-job training.

Gibson’s role in the G.I. Bill faded into obscurity until an article in the American Legion magazine in 1969 brought his story to light. A book published in 1996 – “When Dreams Come True” – about how the G.I. Bill shaped modern America also celebrated Gibson’s role.

Gibson, himself, was always modest about his actions, said Walter Gibson.

“He wasn’t one to brag or bring attention to himself,” he said. “He wouldn’t talk about it unless you asked him. He thought it was the right thing to do and that was enough.”

Dr. Marvin Gibson attributed his father’s strong belief in the G.I. Bill to his humble upbringing.

“Dad was for the underdog,” he said. “He wanted everyone to have a chance like he got. He didn’t think his part was a big deal. But, looking back, it really was.”

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