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At long last, 2 Vietnam vets to get names on Gainesville memorial
Two names will be added to the 26 on this monument at Rock Creek Veterans Park in Gainesville.

That is about to change, however.

A local Vietnam veterans group is planning to place the names of Marine Lance Cpl. Fred Buffington and Army Pvt. 1st Class Kenneth Gibbs on the monument in a ceremony at Veterans Day at Rock Creek Veterans Park in Gainesville.

And there’s room. Vietnam veteran Dave Dellinger said the monument has space for several other names. The memorial now bears the names of 26 Hall County residents.

“I am thrilled and I know my family will be,” said Gibbs’ sister, Terri G. Crumley, who lives in White County. “I know it would have meant so much to my mom and dad. This is a long time coming.”

The soldiers’ omission from the memorial, which was erected in 2007, and later discovery is a story of government record-keeping and happenstance.

When Vietnam veteran Johnny Hulsey researched records in 2005 and 2006, “computers weren’t up to date like they are now,” he said.

Gibbs spent most of his early years in White County but graduated from North Hall High School and ended up marrying a Gainesville woman.

“His allotment check went to his wife in Atlanta, but the information I (later) gathered showed … he never spent a night in Atlanta,” Hulsey said.

Similarly with Buffington, he was born and grew up in the Gillsville area, but poverty and other circumstances split the family and he ended up in foster care in Smyrna.

Veterans learned about Buffington and Gibbs while in the midst of a program where the names of area veterans are etched on bricks and then laid at Rock Creek, said Harold Goss.

“If we hadn’t done this, (the names) wouldn’t be going up on the wall,” he said.

Buffington’s sister, Annie Browner, said she learned about the brick program in church, so she started getting information together about her husband, father and her brother — all veterans.

Her husband, Robert, approached Goss about the bricks.

“When I looked down at this piece of paper and saw Fred’s name, I said, ‘What happened to Fred?’” Goss said, adding that he recalled Buffington.

“He was killed in Vietnam,” Browner said.

“He then brought me back to speed on that situation that happened when we were teenagers and I said, ‘I didn’t know Fred was dead. His name should be on our wall in Gainesville,’” Goss said.

Goss later shared the information with the other veterans, a tight-knit group of 32 men who left Gainesville for Vietnam in the 1960s and now meet informally for breakfast every Wednesday at Dairy Queen at 951 Green St., Gainesville.

Learning that the group plans to hold a special ceremony for the two men thrilled Linda Lyles of Gainesville, another of Buffington’s sisters.

“It’s something to remember,” she said. “We’re very proud of him and I think he (served voluntarily) because he loved his country.”

And while the wars they fought are part of history, memories of Buffington and Gibbs — who had very different upbringings — are still fresh for their families.

In an interview at her home, with pictures and other memorabilia spread across a dining room table, Lyles recalled her older brother and her family’s early struggles, tears rolling down her cheek as she spoke.

There were money troubles in the family, with Lyles’ mother in the hospital and her father, a farmer, trying to take care of five children.

“He’d walk from Gillsville to (Gainesville) to work and by the time he got home, it was dark and we were there, practically with nothing,” Lyles said.

Eventually, the children went into foster care, with Lyles joining her two brothers, including Fred, in a home in Smyrna.

Fred graduated from Campbell High School, where he had been offered a football scholarship at the University of Tennessee.

“But he wanted to go to the Marines,” Lyles said “It was a shock to everybody. I think he felt like he was going to get drafted, for some reason.”

Buffington started his tour in Vietnam on April 26, 1968.

“I remember the letters he used to write and they were tear-jerkers ... because he would want cookies and Kool-Aid,” she said.

Buffington died June 30, 1968, when he stepped on a land mine. He was 20 years old.

Lyles remembers the day well.

“I was happy because I was going to a party,” she said. “And then, these men pull up in an (military) car, so we knew what (had happened).”

Crumley was 9 when her brother was killed on Sept. 4, 1967, just two weeks after arriving in Vietnam.

“It devastated our family,” she said.

Crumley and her brother’s relationship was close despite their 10-year age difference.

“I idolized him and he adored me,” she said, recalling the two of them “playing a game of kick the can” the night before he left for boot camp.

“He wanted to serve. We came from a military family,” she said. “There was never a question to him joining. He went to enlist in the Navy and was drafted in the Army, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to go.”

Gibbs, known to his family as “Butch,” had been married about a year when he was killed.

“(His wife) had just found out she was pregnant and lost the baby (after his death),” Crumley said.

These days, Crumley speaks to school groups and other veterans-related events about her brother.

“I want people to know he was real,” Crumley said. “Sometimes, with children, we get lost in the patriotic piece. What they need to know is I had a brother and we played together.”

The day of her brother’s death, Gibbs’ mother woke up “with the most horrible feeling,” she said. “We all went to school and she looked out and saw (whom) we now know to be Capt. Parker walking down our sidewalk.

“And she just knew and ... fell to the floor.”

Crumley still has the telegram announcing Gibbs’ death. The piece of paper explains that he was killed by a gunshot wound he got while riding in a military vehicle.

“Please accept my deepest sympathy,” said Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth G. Wickham in the telegram.

Randy DeLong, Gibbs’ cousin, said he later learned that Gibbs’ platoon had been ambushed and that he had “jumped out and took fire to warn all of (the others).”

“He saved a lot of lives,” DeLong said.

And his action seemed so typical of the boy he knew from childhood, when girls way outnumbered the boys in his family and they were apt to get picked on — a lot.

Gibbs “was the type of guy who, growing up, never got into trouble, per se,” DeLong said. “But if someone was willing to start a fight, he was willing to participate.”

And so, the recognition that’s planned for Veterans Day pleased DeLong.

“He deserves it, certainly,” he said.

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