LITTLE ROCK — Nearly 60 years after he retired from the U.S. Army, and 31 years after his death, George William Tribell, was honored Friday for his military service in World War II and his family received several medals which were never given to him during his life.
A long-time resident of Pine Bluff and North Little Rock, Tribell received the Bronze Star during the war for his leadership and bravery while leading an engineer regiment in Northern Australia that was under attack from the Japanese at the time, and on the island of New Guinea.
After the war, however, several other medals he had earned were never presented to him.
After discovering the oversight, his grandson, Jon, and son, Ron, worked through military and government channels to finally acquire the medals and have them presented at a ceremony.
Gov. Mike Beebe attended Friday’s ceremony in the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol.
At the ceremony, Jon Tribell said his grandfather "was truly a hero and a wonderful man." Lt Col. Steve Gray of the U.S. Air Force presented medals to George Tribell’s two living children.
Jon Tribell said he and his father, Ron Tribell of Heber Springs, discovered while going through the late-1st sergeant’s military records, which they received from National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, that he had never received several medals which he had earned serving in the early years of World War II.
"His record was quite thick and we started organizing and going through that and we discovered that there were certain (medals earned) that he didn’t receive," the grandson said.
George Tribell did receive some ribbons but did not receive the medal equivalent because they came out after he retired, his grandson said.
Jon Tribell said his grandfather retired from the military in 1943 after nearly 23 years of service because of a disability. He lost his sight on one eye in a shooting range accident and also had a significant loss of hearing.
"He had a 60 percent disability and because he was retired at the time the medals came out he never received them," Jon Tribell said.
After George Tribell left the military, he and his wife, Martha, settled in North Little Rock near Camp Robinson, where he had been stationed for a time in the Army. He worked as a civilian at Camp Robinson for several years, then moved to Pine Bluff in the late 1950s where he worked for about 15 years at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.
At Friday’s ceremony, Ron Tribell and his sister, June Tarkington of North Little Rock, George Tribell’s oldest daughter, were presented their father’s World War II Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
"Obviously this was a subject that was important, once we received the personnel record and figured out there were some holes in the system," grandson Jon Tribell said in an interview, adding that American Legion officials in Arkansas also were key in helping get the ceremony off the ground.
He said he was pleased that his grandfather was honored and that the governor could attend.
"We will never know what 1st Sgt. George Tribell and his men in Company C endured in the southwest Pacific area. There each plodding treacherous step throughout the war protected that which we have and hold dear at home," Jon Tribell said during the event, adding that the soldiers endured 130-degree temperatures "hauling company supplies through washed out mud roads in the malaria-infested jungle" as they cleared and built airstrips.
"We have cause to be proud of our hero George Tribell and all of the heroes of Company C, yet we can never pretend to know the gory path to peace down which they marched for us, nor would they want us to know," he said.
Beebe praised George Tribell for his military career, and his family for making sure he received the medals he had earned.
"The family deserves credit for this because they did their homework, they did the pushing and as a result of that they were able to at least posthumously recognize their patriarch’s service as a 1st sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II," the governor said later.