Wounded by Nazis in Spain, Joe wants to hit back

By Sgt. Bert Briller.

[The International Brigades Association archive copy of this article has this identifying note written on it: Mitchel Field New York, Air Force, 1942]

“We crouched in fox holes while the Nazi and Italian planes strafed us with almost no opposition, because we lacked planes and anti-aircraft guns. Day after day we were bombed and strafed and hammered. I swore to myself, when I saw my comrades killed, that some day I’d be up there in the air giving it back to them with interest.”

Pat Joseph Gibbons of Fox Target was talking about the Axis murderous tactic, which he has known at first hand, having seen almost two years of service with the Spanish Loyalist Army. He left his wife and child in Chicago to enlist with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade because he wanted to ‘do something against Fascist oppression.’

Torpedoed off coast

At high noon on the calm Mediterranean the ship which was taking him and 300 other volunteers from Marseilles to Barcelona was torpedoed by an Italian sub. He saw for five hours before being picked up by a Spanish fishing boat. Not so lucky were 200 of his shipmates lost at sea.

“I saw most of the Spanish war,” the quiet, almost grey-haired 36-year-old Mitchelite said. “Madrid, Brunete, Belchite, the Aragon Mountains, Teruel. I was in the retreat across the Ebro – it’s a broad river – and in the offensive when we recrossed it. Before we returned to America – only 30 of the 550 men in my unit were left – I was a second lieutenant in heavy machine guns.

Wounded in arm

As most of the American volunteers, Pat Gibbons was wounded in action. While holding a crossroads with a machinegun a Fascist tank burst out from the rear, steam-rolled the crew and sprayed the flanks with bullets. Gibbons was shot in the arm.

The interval between his service in Spain and his induction into the US army last April is for him ‘merely a furlough in a war that has been going on since 1936.’ ‘Although the fascists had an overwhelming superiority in material, he stressed, ‘the Spanish people were able to hold them for two years. Losses were tremendous. There were no cigarettes, no eggs, no milk. But the men kept on fighting because they were convinced of the justice of their cause.

‘Discipline was good because we felt that to fight a war for freedom you had to make sacrifices. The men in Spain did what out boys in the Philippines did.’

“Dig in, Dig in”

One important lesson in fighting the blitz, Gibbons learned, was that ‘your foxhole is your best friend.’ Digging in secures you against anything but a direct hit. Even if the Spanish troops marched 30 miles in a day, they dug their fox-holes before resting.’

Gibbons spent eight months studying aircraft instruments at Chanute Field, Illinois, where he appeared on a program over the Mutual network relating his experiences. He is at present an instrument specialist in the Tow Target organization.

The single thing he wants most now is to go to the Aerial Gunnery School ‘where I can get training and equipment I never dreamed of in the International Brigade. I’, going back to help finish the fight for freedom which took place in Spain and before that at Bunker Hill and as far back as when men stood up for their lives and liberties.’

That’s why Pat Joseph Gibbons is in the Army Air Force.