“I don’t care if you major in basket weaving, you’ll get a college diploma,” he preached to his five sons. Though he did not see them graduate from high school or college, he was a Carolina Dad.
When he was born, he had two teenage sisters, each of whom later earned master’s degrees, and as he entered high school, his mother decided that she would attend that same high school and
graduate with him.
After briefly attending the University of Michigan, he fibbed about his age, joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., where he met a woman who had moved to Seattle to work for Boeing. One evening, he asked her, “How would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?” He was 19 and she was 21 when they were married.
He entered the University of Washington and, to become an Army officer, he enrolled in ROTC. Two sons were born there, and their third arrived after he was shipped to Korea, where he was wounded in action. He was delighted to be assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., where he attended Ranger School and Jump School. The two youngest sons were born at Fort Benning; the five boys shared a bedroom.
He wanted his sons to understand the importance of work. By the time they entered school, they each were working — collecting newspapers and bottles, selling holiday cards, and making and selling pot holders. Later they pumped gas, cut lawns and worked construction.
After four years at Fort Benning, he became a company commander with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and he remained a company commander when his unit moved to Mainz, Germany. As a child, he had not been permitted to participate in organized sports, but in Mainz his older sons played Little League football and baseball. An amateur military historian, he delighted in piling the family into their ’57 Ford Ranch Wagon to travel across Western Europe, often stopping at World War I and World War II sites.
When, two jumps shy of becoming a master parachutist, he broke his leg, he relinquished his jump slot; in a few months, he received news that he was to attend the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth.
It was with great enthusiasm that he received news that he would return to Fort Bragg into a jump slot with the 18th Airborne Corps, where he not only became a master parachutist but achieved 100 jumps. He worked on the Cuban missile crisis and developed plans for U.S. involvement in the Dominican Republic, but despite the late hours, he made a priority for the family dinner. He emphasized to his sons the importance of sticking together, helping each other and always respecting their mother.
He enjoyed books, travel, sports, music, dancing and card games. He was an independent thinker, and he particularly enjoyed his time with his troops. He practiced and taught that there was “right” and “wrong.” He demanded honesty and insisted that his sons always do their best.
So while he did not attend any of the high school or college graduation ceremonies for his sons (four of whom graduated from UNC ), he inspired the expectation that led to their degrees.
He brought his family to Chapel Hill to see the “Star of Bethlehem” at the Morehead Planetarium. He took them to see The Lost Colony and the Wright Brothers memorial, not knowing that his sons would become North Carolinians.
That was my Dad. And 40 years ago, on June 1, 1965, his small unit was caught in an ambush and, despite Dad’s heroic efforts, he was shot and killed near Pleiku, South Vietnam. He couldn’t attend those high school or college graduations, or participate in our weddings, or enjoy his five grandsons (two of whom are UNC alumni with a third enrolled at Carolina) and granddaughter, or help his sons with career decisions. He could not grow old with our mother. But he profoundly shaped our lives by the values he instilled and the example he set. And while he didn’t live to know or enjoy it, he was a very special Carolina Dad.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70