Major Sam Gibbons (Posthumous) - US Army - WWII - Tampa, FL

Sam M. Gibbons served with distinction as an officer during World War II with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He led parachute infantry forces in major combat actions, including the pre-dawn D-Day invasion of Normandy, the invasion of Holland, the Battle of Bastogne (“Battle of the Bulge”), the capture of Hitler’s Nazi headquarters in Berchtesgaden and further operations in central Europe and Austria. Gibbons rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. He wrote a book about his D-Day experience “I Was There. ” President Clinton appointed Congressman Gibbons in 1994 to be the U.S. Chairman the 50th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy France. In 2004, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, French President Chirac presented Mr. Gibbons for his distinguished military service in the liberation of Europe with France’s most prestigious award, the Legion of Honor.

Sam M. Gibbons served in the United States Congress as a Member of the House of Representatives for 34 years (1962 – 1997). He was Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittee on Trade, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, and U.S. Advisor to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In his over three decades in the Congress, spanning the terms of 8 presidents, he was a leader in passage of landmark public policy law in international trade, taxation, health care, and education. He worked on a bipartisan basis with eight U.S. Presidents on major domestic and international policy initiatives. For his distinguished service in the Congress he was honored by his former colleagues in 2004 and received the Congressional Statesman Award.

As a child of the Great Depression and survivor of World War II, Gibbons used lessons he learned from seeing families struggle to recover from financial loss and from seeing nations tom apart by war to guide his life’s work of public service.

It was Mr. Gibbons’ military experiences that set the stage for a life time of public service devoted to helping people live better lives through education, access to healthcare and global trade agreements. His driving focus in over 44 years of public service was “Nations that trade together don’t fight each other.” He would say to leaders and heads of state around the world that “trade is the road to peace.” Speeches would often conclude “we don’t fight wars with countries that have McDonald’s.”

From the battlefields of Normandy he forged his conviction that for far too long in history nations have been defined by the “Rule of Force.” His determined focus following his combat service in World War II was to do all he could to transition the foreign policy of the United States from the “Rule of Force” to the “Rule of Law.”

As a leading architect of American trade policy for more than 25 years Mr. Gibbons is recognized as one of the foremost proponents of open markets and free trade. As Chairman of the Trade Subcommittee in Congress, he sponsored every major trade law enacted from 1976 – 1997, including The Trade Acts of 1979, 1984 and 1988, legislation implementing the Tokyo and the Uruguay Rounds of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade, the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the U.S./Israel Free Trade Agreement, the U.S./Canada Free Trade Agreement, the Andean Trade Preference Act, expanded trade dialog with China and Vietnam, and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

While Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, Mr. Gibbons led trade and interparliamentary delegations throughout Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. He conferred regularly with heads of governments, their trade and economic officials, and business leaders in the United States and abroad. For his relentless leadership in promoting more open and free trade policies in the western hemisphere, he was unanimously selected by all the presidents of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to receive the distinguished Eagle of the America’s Award.

Early in his congressional career, Gibbons played a key role in passing historic legislation including: enactment of the Medicare and Medicade health care programs, the Head Start Program for low income families, the student loan program, the federal Anti-Poverty Program, the Higher Education Acts and the Civil Rights Act. To provide savings for greater income security in retirement years, he was the author of legislation that created the individual retirement account known as IRA’s.

In Florida he spearheaded early in his career the creation and funding of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, brought major federal support for construction of the new Tampa International Airport, all major Tampa Port channel deepening projects over the past 40 years, the Haley VA Hospital, the University of South Florida Medical School, the University of Florida School of Law Center, The University of Florida Brain Institute, and the funds to locate U.S. Department of Defense Central Command and Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. In recognition of his leadership in development of U.S. and international law under the World Trade Organization and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, and the Federal Courthouse in Tampa bears his name.“To me this Courthouse represents my strong belief in the ‘Rule of Law’ – just law – justly administered,” Gibbons said during the dedication of the new Courthouse in his honor. “My personal ‘Rule of Law’ is to treat others as I would want them to treat me.”

Before election to the United States Congress, Mr. Gibbons served for 10 years in the Florida Legislature, where he was instrumental in establishing and is widely recognized today as the “Father” of the University of South Florida – currently the 8th largest university in the United States.

Mr. Gibbons received his undergraduate and his law degree from the University of Florida in 1947. He is admitted to practice law in Washington, D.C., Florida, and before the United States Supreme Court and practiced law in Tampa, Florida his family’s law firm (circa 1896) prior to his election to Congress.

His long and distinguished career in public service all began attending public schools in Tampa, Florida and the University of Florida where he studied political science, history, speech, and was a member of the debate team. He is a member of Florida Blue Key, and the University of Florida Hall of Fame. He received Honorary Doctorate degrees from the University of South Florida and the University of Florida.

Mr. Gibbons is the primary subject of Tom Brokaw’s best-selling book ‘‘The Greatest Generation. ” Brokaw said it was Sam Gibbons who inspired him to write The Greatest Generation. “I met Sam on the 40th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy in a small cafe and until then I had known him as a smart and popular Congressman but I had no idea of his heroic war record. As he recounted his D-Day experience and the year of fighting that followed the cafe fell silent, riveted by this tall, quintessential American who had helped liberate their country and never asked for credit. It was for me the beginning of a rich friendship that I will treasure forever.

God bless this great man.” Tom Brokaw dedicated the proceeds of The Greatest Generation in Sam Gibbons’ name to the Florida State University Institute on World War II. 

Following his 44 years of public service, Mr. Gibbons continued his commitment to furthering global trade policies on the road to peace as Chairman of Gibbons & Company in Washington, D.C. For 15 years, he provided counsel and advocacy on a broad range of public policy and international trade law matters to global businesses, universities and governmental entities.

Mr. Gibbons’ military metals, personal clothing, mess kit and his legendary D-Day “cricket” from the Normandy Invasion, are on display at the Tampa Bay History Museum.

Sam M. Gibbons, 92, died on October 10, 2012 at his home in Tampa, Florida.