This month, America remembers the 50th anniversary of the events that led to the conclusion of World War II.
Today, some 80 people will gather at Pines Cemetery in the Spokane Valley to remember long-dead husbands, brothers and friends. They are members of three families who lived in Otis Orchards during the 1930s and ‘40s - the Giblers, Serrettes and Simpsons. Each family lost a son to the war.
Army Air Corps Sgt. Robert Serette and Army Pvt. Andrew Simpson are both buried at Pines Cemetery. Marine Pvt. Keith Gibler is buried in Montana.
After the remembrance ceremony, the three families will gather for a joint reunion at the Valley home of Delores Gibler, Keith’s sister.
She says the Giblers and Serrettes knew each before moving to the Spokane Valley from Absorakee, Mont., in the ‘30s. The Simpsons moved to the Valley from Iowa during the Great Depression. Once in Otis Orchards, all three families became friends.
Simpson, the oldest of the men who died, graduated from high school in Iowa but started his own logging business here.
Serrette and brothers Keith and Craig Gibler attended Otis Orchards High School together.
Craig Gibler, now 75, survived the war. He served in the Army Air Forces as an aircraft mechanic at an air base in New Mexico.
Now living in Ritzville, Craig Gibler recalls the Otis Orchards of his boyhood as a farming community.
“There were just a couple of stores and a gas station,” he says. His father hauled gravel and raised crops on leased land.
He remembers thumbing for rides to school with his brother, Keith, and their friend Robert Serrette. Everyone in Otis Orchards knew one another. It was a different era.
“(We) would go to the highway, and hitchhike to school and back,” he says. “We were never late.”
The three boys played sports together at the old stone-and-stucco schoolhouse, which was demolished in 1970. After high school, they married and started families of their own.
The three families became intertwined. Andrew Simpson married Frances Gibler, sister of Craig and Keith. Serrette married Martha Mason, a cousin of the Giblers.
When the men went to war and never returned, it changed the families forever.
That was especially true for Frances Gibler Simpson. Her brother Keith was killed in April of 1945. Her husband was killed less than a month later.
“It was terrible. Believe me, it was terrible,” says Frances Busby, who has since remarried. “The two most important people in my life were taken.”
She was left with five children who would grow up without knowing their father or their uncle.
How did she make it?
“I almost didn’t,” Busby, 76, remembers. Since marrying, she had moved to Post Falls and bought a house. After her husband’s death, she had no income and no way to make the payments. With the help of an attorney, she managed to keep her home. She received funds from the government a few months later, and put it all toward the house. Money for food was supplied by the Red Cross.
Even today, she says, she’s not even sure how she got by.
“I don’t remember,” Busby says. “I tried so hard to forget, I just don’t remember.”
Other relatives also have tried but haven’t forgotten.
Letha Greeley, 74, is the sister of downed airman Serrette. “It’s been 50 years, but when I brought the letters out it was just like it was yesterday,” she says. “The holidays and things were never holidays again.
“It just seems everything stopped for them, before they even had a chance to enjoy their lives.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Photos (1 color)
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