Not every old soldier served on the battlefield, yet even some of these found themselves put in harm’s way.
Floyd Tribble, 91, who graduated from Lebanon High School in 1946, served two stints in the U.S. Army, first in the Occupation of Japan after the end of World War II for 21 months and then in the Korean War for nine months.
Like many military veterans, he is not one to talk much about his service, but, gently prodded, will share a few memories from his days as a young man in uniform.
“My army situation was what it was,” he says candidly. “I am not a combat veteran. I served twice. I signed up with the reserves after I got discharged the first time, and I was recalled to the Korean War.”
Early into the conversation, Tribble pulls out his wallet, opens it and withdraws a coin.
“I have a 1923 silver dollar that I have been carrying in my wallet since 1946. It’s my good luck piece,” he says. “I drilled a hole in it and was gonna put it on a chain to wear around my neck. Then somebody told me it was against the law to deface a coin, so I changed my mind and put it in my wallet. That coin crossed the Pacific Ocean four times with me. Each trip took 29 to 30 days to cross. I have carried it for 72 years.”
The veteran’s first stretch ran from Sept. 23, 1946, to March 27, 1948. After enlisting, he went to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., for his physical and then to Fort Aberdeen, Md., for basic training.
“I rode by train four days to Seattle to Fort Lawton, Wash., and from there I sailed on a destroyer converted into a troop ship to Yokohama, Japan, and then I was sent to Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan, where I was assigned to the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.
“I trained in mortars and heavy weapons and was converted to military police. I spent 21 months in city of Kumamoto. We did patrol, guarded ammunition dumps, walked and rode patrol and tried to keep fellow soldiers out of trouble. We worked with Japanese police. We were there for occupation of Japan.
“They stopped the train on the way to Kumamoto, and they let us see the damage done by the radioactivity to what used to be the city of Nagasaki. It was just wilderness. We couldn’t get within so many miles of it.”
While in Japan, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur was in command of the occupation, Tribble was in charge of the provost marshal’s office and worked 12-hour shifts. After 21 months was honorably discharged and returned home to Lebanon.
For the next two years, he helped his father, Eldon, a mechanic and welder in his garage on Gay Street and attended Nokes Business School.
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Tribble was called back into service.
This time he went to Fort Hood, Texas, for refresher training and then rode a train to Camp Stoneman, Calif. From there he was bound once more for Yokohama, Japan.
“From there, we boarded ship for Inchon, Korea. We went down rope ladders with full packs on our backs and an M1 rifle on those choppy seas, and I was scared to death,” he recalled. “We landed in Inchon and went to Seoul, Korea. I was reassigned from being a military policeman to being a maintenance engineer in the 3rd TMRS (Transportation Military Railway Service) Railroad.
“North Korea pushed on further southward, and we had to evacuate. There were four of us who stayed together the whole time as a crew, a major and three non-coms. We evacuated by rail. The railcars had hundreds of refugees riding on top of them. We moved south and set up headquarters in Taegu, South Korea.
“There I was. The four of us worked as troubleshooters to keep the railroad lines open, keeping water supplied for the old steam engines. We hauled wounded from the front. We hauled body bags with bodies and ammunition to keep the troops supplied. We cleaned out tunnels, cleared out wrecks,” said Tribble, who helped to clean up four train wrecks.
For his efforts, he received a Soldier’s Medal, which is given to those who distinguish themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.
A clipping he keeps with the medal states that it was “awarded to Cpl. William F. Tribble of Lebanon for his action in helping to move about 75 cars of vitally needed supplies out of the danger area near an exploding ammunition train at Chechon, Korea, Feb. 11, 1951. Cpl. Tribble, member of a railway operating battalion ‘repeatedly risked his life, despite the explosions and flying debris, to voluntarily approach the burning train, loaded with the various types of explosives.’ ”
Tribble, who has two sons and two stepchildren, later worked for 20 years in Florida in the citrus industry and in factories, spent a few years in North Carolina and then returned to Lebanon and worked in Nashville on the B-1 project at Textron for five years.
Now living a quiet life and widowed since 2016, he said, “I could tell you more tales, one after another, but that’s enough.
“I’ve had heart surgery, back surgery and have diabetes. The V.A. takes care of me. I’m still kicking,” said Tribble, a true Tennessee volunteer.
Tennessee Maneuvers Experience
The Friends of Wilson County Veterans Museum will hold a fundraiser dinner where patrons can view a 20-minute movie trailer of “The Tennessee Maneuvers Experience.”
The dinner and viewing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Wilson County Expo Center. Tickets are $75 and are available at the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce or through eventbrite.com or facebook.com/tennesseemaneuversexperience.
Those spearheading the project, which they hope will be a traveling exhibition, include Tom Clemmons, Jerry McFarland, Tressa Bush and Trey Semmes.
“The Tennessee Maneuvers Experience is an immersive, educational production that is in development to preserve the legacy of the 850,000 troops that trained in Middle Tennessee over a three-year period (1941-1944) in preparation for (mainly) the European theater during WWII. Its message is to impart to our young people and others the history and a greater understanding to what it means to defend our nation,” filmmaker Semmes said.
Several film production days have been completed for the documentary and will continue at various locations in the coming weeks. Several video interviews have been completed of individuals detailing first-hand accounts of their memories of the maneuvers and interaction with the soldiers. One lady tells the story of giving a soldier a glass of fresh milk, which led to a friendship and ultimate marriage upon the soldier’s return to the United States from combat in Europe.
“Ideally, we’d like to have this project completed by late 2019 with Veterans Day being an ideal premiere,” Semmes said. “We anticipate the show would realistically travel in 2020. Funding will greatly dictate the size and scope of the final project. Solid corporate sponsorship is needed- and they will get brand recognition/exposure in the final production.
“At the minimum, it becomes a film for the Veterans Museum. But, we hope that its full potential is realized as an immersive stage show, including some traveling artifacts. It has been initially discussed that (Wilson County) schools would bus students to see the show and then tour Fiddler’s Grove and the Veterans Museum, similar to a field trip to the Tennessee State Museum. We think surrounding counties will also like to bring students in as part of a United States/Tennessee history curriculum. There has also been mention that a permanent facility could house this show at the fairgrounds as a tourism destination.”