RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Walking into the military exhibit inside the North Carolina history museum you’ll notice some new hardware hanging on the wall. It is the first ever “NC Military Hall of Firsts.”
“We have 130,000 active duty service members (and) 700,000 veterans,” said Ariel Aponte, assistant secretary of the North Carolina Department of Military and Veteran Affairs (NCDMVA). “With that population, it’s the right place to do it in the state of North Carolina Museum of History.”
The new exhibit highlights people who have excelled in their military career and in some way have given back to their community in the state of North Carolina. People can nominate a veteran and a committee put together by the NCDMVA makes the official vote.
“It was a surprise, a privilege, and an honor all wrapped up into one,” said Theodore Triebel, retired captain in the US Navy.
Three of this year’s eight inductees are still living. One them is Triebel who served as a pilot in the Navy.
“When I came back from Vietnam from being a POW, I’d had four combat deployments at that time. When I was shot down, (it) was my 327th mission,” said Triebel.
Triebel spent almost one year as a prisoner of war. He was released in 1973 and would later lead the Navy ROTC program at Duke, NC State, and UNC Chapel Hill Universities. Triebel says he was proud to help young men and women prepare for their time in the service.
The oldest living inductee is Norman Gaddis. Gaddis will be 99 in September.
“The flights that I took (were) across the pacific. When I told people, ‘yes I flew all the way across the pacific and no one else had done that,’ they go ‘you did what?'” Gaddis exclaimed.
Gaddis was a fighter pilot who flew in World War II and Vietnam. He was the first U.S. Air Force colonel to survive a bailout and capture in North Vietnam. He spent nearly six years as a POW.
“Dad was shot down in May of 1967…spent the first three years in solitary confinement. He was the first full colonel that was shot down so he got lots of special attention in terms of torture,” said Gaddis’ son, Tony Gaddis.
Gaddis retired in 1976 and worked at Wake Forest University for some time.
“Pretty amazing all he went through…very tough gentleman,” Tony told CBS 17.
Six more veterans have been inducted into the inaugural class of the “NC Military Hall of Firsts.” Assistant secretary Aponte said the next induction ceremony will take place later in the year.
GET TO KNOW THE INDUCTEES
The NC Musuem of history sent CBS 17 a brief bio of all the inductees. The following is a list of the eight members who were inducted June 4.
Edwin Anderson (1860–1933) was born at Masonboro Sound, near Wilmington. His U.S. Navy career spanned four decades, beginning with graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1882. Anderson was cited for gallantry at Cienfuegos, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War in 1898, and he received the Medal of Honor for his role in the occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, in 1914. For providing humanitarian aid to Japan following a 1923 earthquake, he gained international attention. At his retirement in 1926, Rear Admiral Anderson was the highest-ranking military officer from North Carolina.
Elmer Gibson (1903–1994) of Greensboro is an overlooked figure in the integration of the United States armed forces. He was called to the ministry at age 16 and began preaching at St. Matthews Methodist Episcopal Church in Greensboro, the largest Black church in North Carolina at the time. Gibson joined the U.S. Army in 1941 as a chaplain and was stationed in Louisiana, Arizona, Mississippi, and Alaska. Gibson and the men of his regiment were often the targets of discrimination and violence. He later served as an adviser to President Harry Truman on the integration of the military and led some of the military’s first integrated church services.
Bennis Blue (1953–) of Harnett County and four other women became the first female officers of the 82nd Airborne Division on June 15, 1978. Although Blue likes to say she was not the first female officer in the 82nd, she was the first one of the five to report that morning—technically making her the unit’s first female officer. Captain Blue served as a supply officer with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 7th Support Group, at McKee Barracks at Crailsheim, Germany, in the 1980s. After her military service, she earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State University and became an English professor at several colleges in North Carolina and Virginia.
Norman Gaddis (1923–) of Dandridge, Tennessee, flew P-40s and P-51s in World War II and F-4s in Vietnam. On his 73rd mission during the Vietnam War, his aircraft was struck by enemy fire, forcing him to eject. Gaddis was the first U.S. Air Force colonel to survive a bailout and capture in North Vietnam. He was taken to the Hoa Lo Prison—the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”—where he was held as a prisoner of war for almost six years. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1976, Gaddis moved to Winston-Salem and worked at Wake Forest University.
John Thompson (1925–2022) of Kannapolis enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school in 1943 because he liked the dress blue uniforms. He was sent to Montford Point, a segregated portion of Camp Lejeune for training Black U.S. Marines, where he joined the boxing team. Prohibited by military policy from serving in a frontline combat unit, Thompson served in an ammunition company in the Pacific theater. After the war, he attended what is now NC A&T State University and taught public school in Guilford County for 23 years.
Theodore “Ted” Triebel (1941–) was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father, Admiral Charles Triebel, was stationed. The younger Triebel graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1964 and became a naval aviator. He served several tours in Southeast Asia on board USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) and USS Midway (CV-41). Triebel was on his 327th mission when forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken prisoner on August 27, 1972. After 215 days in captivity, he was released on March 29, 1973. Triebel later commanded the Naval ROTC program at Duke University, NC State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Madelon Battle “Glory” Hancock (1881–1930) was the daughter of Samuel Westray Battle. Born in Pensacola, Florida, she grew up in Asheville, where her father was the personal physician of the Vanderbilt family. She attended school in Raleigh and New York, where she met Colonel Mortimer Hancock of the British army, whom she later married. Within days of the outbreak of World War I, she volunteered as a nurse, spending nearly the entire war in Belgium and France. Her cheery demeanor earned her the nickname “Morning Glory” from her patients. She received 12 decorations from three countries for her wartime service, making her the most decorated woman of the war.
Elizabeth Barker (1920–2020) of Elkin decided to enlist in the U.S. Army after seeing a flyer reading “Uncle Sam Wants You.” In March 1943, she joined the Women’s Army Corps and was assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in Birmingham, England. After serving in England for eight months, she was stationed in Rouen, France, where the 6888th worked in an old aircraft hangar separating backlogged mail that was stacked to the ceiling. Upon returning home, Barker attended Winston-Salem Teacher’s College—the first woman at the school to use the GI Bill. She later taught school for more than 30 years.