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Hinesville VA outpatient clinic to get new name
President signs measure into law to name facility after four local soldiers killed in action in Vietnam
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State Rep. Al Williams speaks with the family of John Gibson on Tuesday afternoon. A resolution to name the Hinesville VA outpatient clinic after Gibson and three others killed in action in Vietnam has become law with President Biden's signature Monday.

A new name for the Veterans Administration clinic in Hinesville now has the president’s signature.

The resolution to have the clinic named for four Liberty County service members who were killed in action in Vietnam has passed the U.S. Senate, and President Biden signed it into law Tuesday. Local veterans and family members gathered last week to celebrate the measure’s passage, and its anticipated authorization.

Once enacted, the Hinesville VA outpatient clinic will bear the names of John Gibson, Dan James, William “Billy” Sapp and Frankie Smiley.

“It means the world to us,” said Dr. Joan Evans, one of Gibson’s sisters. “We’re at the point in our lives, waiting 56 years, for something to be done in his honor. Right now, it’s just an honor to be here and to know that a building will be named in his honor.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” said David Lyons, Sapp’s brother-in-law and a veteran himself. “We’ve been working on this about two or three years. There was a while there we didn’t think it was going to happen. It’s a great day now. We’re really glad to get this behind us and make it happen.”

Gibson, a Marine, was 22 years old when he was killed. He was in Vietnam for 100 days, from his arrival to his death in February 1968. Dan James, an Army infantryman, also spent 100 days in theater. He was 20 when he died on December 29, 1968. Sapp was 25 and an Army infantryman when he was killed on June 7, 1968, and Frankie Lee Smiley was 24 when he was killed in August 1968.

“He would have been very proud that not only him but the other families are getting the recognition,” said Catina Norman, Smiley’s great-niece. “It’s a positive step in the right direction. It’s been kind of long because you hear about it and then you don’t hear about it. So it’s a long time coming.”

Pastor Shelly Temple Worthy grew up with James as her uncle and as her father figure. She recalled pushing the family car when she was 8 years old as her uncle get to his destination before leaving for combat duty.

“And he never came back again. I never saw him again,” she said.

James’ daughter passed away last year at the age of 55 from sickle cell anemia.

“I thought it all would be over, that there was no need to go further,” Worthy said. “But God is still doing it, even though He took her. I said, God, continue with it, and He’s not going to stop until it is completed. To me, it’s … it’s amazing to me. God is doing great things. This is going to be awesome.”

Historically, local Vietnam veteran Bruce McCartney said, it takes about two weeks for such bills to be signed by the president.

House members approved naming the facility the John Gibson, Dan James, William Sapp, and Frankie Smiley VA Clinic on November 13, 2023. Senators approved the resolution May 2.

Local veterans also are hoping to have the renaming ceremony August 7, which is also National Purple Heart Day.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter introduced the measure and shepherded it through that chamber and then asked U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock for his help in getting onto the Senate floor.

Gibson’s sister Eva, the eldest of nine children, said she thinks of her brother often. She recalled a time when she didn’t have a washing machine and needed to do laundry. But the only car available to use to go to the laundromat was a stick shift – which she didn’t know how to drive.

“He could drive it,” she said, “but he didn’t have a driver’s license. I drove and he changed the gears and we made it there and made it back.”

That the names of the Liberty Four could be on a building dedicated to helping veterans also resonates with the families.  

“I think he would be humble about it,” said David Lyons of his late brother-in-law. “He would think this is a lot of hoopla about nothing. His mother would certainly be. She was extremely proud of him. He was a very humble person. He just did what had to be done.

“Being a vet who uses a vet clinic, it means a lot. To see another vet that made the ultimate sacrifice that they’ll get recognized for their service in providing a facility for me and my needs.”

Lyons also extended his thanks to Rep. Carter and to McCartney and his committee for leading the charge in the renaming.

Worthy added those four soldiers from Liberty County “gave their lives for something that everybody can continue to be healed from.

“The healing is still going forward.” 

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State Rep. Al Williams and fellow Vietnam War veteran Bruce McCartney speak with the families of John Gibson and Dan James on Tuesday. A resolution to name the Hinesville VA outpatient clinic after Gibson and three others killed in action in Vietnam has been signed into law.
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