TAMPA, Florida - A Tampa icon, former Congressman Sam Gibbons, is dead at age 92.
Gibbons, who was credited with changing the face of Tampa Bay, celebrated his anniversary with his wife, Betty, Tuesday night. He didn't wake up in the morning.
Gibbons was a true American hero. He served his country in war, in peace, in good times, and in bad. He was re-elected to Congress 17 times. He was there when Medicare was passed, and he was on the beaches of Normandy parachuting behind enemy lines.
One of the last times I interviewed him, we talked, among other things, about the dangers he and his fellow paratroopers faced in one of the most significant battles in American History: June 6, 1944. D-Day. Gibbons said it was just "part of the job."
"I know a lot of people who broke their legs in the Normandy jump, and we actually had people killed parachute jumping," remembered Gibbons. "Yeah, the parachute jumps put you in harm's way, but what the hell. I'm still here."
Gibbons was in politics before John Kennedy was elected president, and served as his Florida campaign manager. He loved every minute of it. "It was a lot of fun and a lot of excitement, and Kennedy really enjoyed his trip here to Tampa. He really liked those pretty girls jumping up and down," Gibbons said with a laugh.
Gibbons was with Kennedy at the appearance in Tampa just days before the president was killed in Dallas. "People are always giving me pictures of that event because I was with him all day and I'm in all the pictures."
But the accomplishment that made him the most proud was saving MacDill Air Force Base, which he had to do several times, including when he was first elected to Congress.
"MacDill was slated to close and I went over to the Pentagon, saw some World War II buddies of mine who were high up in the Pentagon, and I said 'I got to save MacDill, it's a permanent post.' They looked at me, like, 'Gibbons don't you know there is nothing permanent in the United State Military Forces? We open and close bases as we need them.'"
But Sam Gibbons was always there fighting for MacDill and the little guy. For those of us who knew him, he was a character with a twinkle in his eye who loved and served his country, and we are all better off because of the work he did.