Hamilton County veterans court graduate: 'They all want me to succeed'
Kevin Grasha, Cincinnati Enquirer - Published 9:56 p.m. ET Nov. 23, 2019 | Updated 8:13 a.m. ET Nov. 24, 2019
For five decades after his honorable discharge from the Marines in 1970, Gano Gibson lived with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gibson's one-year tour in Vietnam involved intense combat, but he rarely talked about the war. He didn’t talk about what bothered him. He says he didn’t know what PTSD was. He self-medicated with alcohol.
Gibson was finally diagnosed last year after an incident that the judge overseeing his case said was “completely out of character:” He walked into a Cincinnati police station with a .32-caliber handgun in his pants pocket, "agitated," documents say, and declared that “people were trying to kill him.”
The gun was found during a pat-down.
Gibson, who had no previous criminal record, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. He faced up to 1½ years in prison.
At a Nov. 13 ceremony, Gibson was announced as one of four new graduates of Hamilton County's felony veterans treatment court. A total of 72 veterans have now completed the court initiative since it began in 2011.
The program, which typically takes two years to complete, offers comprehensive treatment and services in lieu of jail time for veterans dealing with substance abuse and/or mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans facing low-level, and typically nonviolent, felony charges are eligible.
Once the program is successfully completed, the charges are dismissed, and the case is sealed.
The judge who oversees the program, Common Pleas Judge Ethna Cooper, says it was the first veterans court program in the country for people charged with felony crimes.
Cooper, whose father was a World War II combat veteran, said the program’s team works to ensure participants have access to treatment and that they obtain housing, education, vocational training and employment.
“This court is a new beginning. It’s a second chance,” she said during the November graduation ceremony. “It a recognition of their service to their country.”
'We were always getting shot at'
Gibson enlisted in the Marine Corps less than a year after he graduated from Cincinnati's Central High School. He followed his older brother into the Marines.
Between 1967 and 1968, Gibson served a tour in North Vietnam – much of the time outnumbered against a well-equipped North Vietnamese Army. He said he was involved in seven major operations and earned two Purple Hearts.
“We were always getting shot at,” Gibson said in an interview. “Sometimes we’d strap up for three, four, five days in a row.”
Gibson, who served with the 3rd battalion, 9th Marines, still thinks about the soldier who took his place at a listening post one night and was killed in an ambush. A lieutenant had given Gibson the night off because he was due for R&R.
"You think about, 'How did I get so lucky?'" he said.
After Gibson's arrest for the March 26, 2018 incident at the Cincinnati Police Department’s District 4 on Reading Road, a judge set his bond at $100,000 and he was held at the Hamilton County jail.
Three months later, in June 2018, Gibson was deemed eligible for veterans court and released from jail with an electronic monitoring unit.
Gibson credited the people involved in the program, from Cooper to the prosecutor to his veteran mentor, for helping him complete it successfully.
“They all wanted me to succeed,” he said. “How can you not do the best you can?”