Sacramento historian given French Legion of Honor Medal

05/10/2013 12:00 AM

05/12/2013 2:31 PM

For decades, Mead B. Kibbey has helped preserve and shed light on the history of Sacramento and California.

But Thursday evening, the spotlight was on the noted Sacramento historian and benefactor of the California State Library.

Kibbey, who as a Navy lieutenant junior grade served aboard a minesweeper during the D-Day invasion of France, was presented with the French Legion of Honor medal at the State Library.

Kibbey was honored with the order of the chevalier, or knight of the legion, an honor first conferred by Napoleon Bonaparte to reward civilians and military personnel who had not only served France but humanity, said Jane R. Wheaton, honorary consul of France.

On July 2, 1944, Kibbey's minesweeper, the USS YMS-350, was sunk by a snag mine off the coast of Cherbourg.

Of the 30 crew members, nine were killed or reported missing and 10 were seriously wounded. Kibbey was credited with rescuing two of his crew members.

At Kibbey's request, Wheaton read the names of those who perished. Had they survived, she said, they would have warranted the same honor.

Kibbey also was presented with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for saving the two crew members under fire.

The medal was presented to Kibbey during the war but was presented again during Thursday's ceremony by Lt. Col. H.B. Eggers of the U.S. Marine Corps as a special honor.

In an interview before the ceremony, Kibbey noted that Eggers heads the ROTC program at UC Berkeley, Kibbey's alma mater.

He joined the ROTC program there in 1938.

After the YMS-350 was sunk, the surviving crew members were given a choice of new assignments.

"Some were shaken up so much, they wanted shore duty, and they got it," Kibbey said.

But he and the captain requested a return to sea duty and each was given command of a minesweeper. An enlarged photo at the ceremony showed Kibbey as commanding officer on the deck of the YMS-438.

The "YMS" stood for "yard minesweeper," but Kirby said crew members wryly joked that it stood for "you might survive."

"They were made of wood because they were used to search for magnetic mines," he explained. "They were 136 feet long I think Columbus' ship was 10 feet longer."

Kibbey, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering and naval architecture at UC Berkeley, went on to operate a lumber business, the Black Diamond Co., for 40 years, retiring in 1986.

He joined the California State Library Foundation in 1988.

Over the years, he has made many donations to its collections, particularly 19th-century photographs.

He also is the author of "The Railroad Photographs of Alfred A. Hart, Artist."

The publication, now out of print, was a best-seller for the library, generating funds for acquisitions.

The California History Room Gallery was named in Kibbey's honor for his donations to the California State Library and Library Foundation.

Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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