Maclovia Cribbs – Military Matriarch

Maclovia Cribbs – Military Matriarch

Long time Henry County resident, Maclovia (Mac) Cribbs, was born nearly 93 years ago in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, a small rural community in the Rio Grande Valley. Her parents, Martin and Maria Cavazos, immigrated there from Mexico in the early twentieth century. The youngest of six, Mac learned early about hard work from her father, an irrigation canal horse rider responsible for lifting the irrigation gates to allow water to flow and irrigate vegetable and fruit farms in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Cavazos family, like many others during the Depression era, was very poor. Her parents, and the children as well, worked in the fields picking cotton and vegetables. Mac and her siblings would miss school during peak picking season in order to help support the family. As the first American-born child to graduate high school, Mac’s mother and sisters saved enough money to pay for a train ticket to take her to Galveston, Texas so she could attend Saint Mary’s Nursing School.

She graduated from nursing school in 1943, when the country was involved in World War II conflicts in both Europe and the Pacific. Mac felt called to be a part of the national effort. She enlisted in the Army that fall, taking her basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Afterward she was assigned to the 194th General Hospital at Camp Wolters, Mineral Wells, Texas.  

Mac was there at a time when the 194th participated in one of the largest U.S. Army mobile hospital deployments ever attempted. The entire hospital [medical equipment, supplies, medicine and the hospital staff of military doctors and nurses] traveled by train from Abilene, Texas to Miles Standish, Massachusetts. From there the hospital staff and equipment traveled to New York Harbor where they boarded the West Point and traveled to Glascow, Scotland. From Scotland where the medical staff offloaded their supplies and equipment, everything was staged for the next leg of their journey by train to South Hampton, Great Britain. They then traveled across the English Channel to La Harve, France. After offloading their supplies and equipment for the final time, they set up the hospital outside the village of Juese, near Paris.

While the Allied Forces had liberated Paris, the war in Europe continued during her time near Paris. On rare occasions the doctors and nurses took breaks and traveled into Paris for a movie or a meal. It was on such a reprieve that Lieutenant Maclovia Cavazos and fellow military doctors and nurses found themselves on the Champs-Elysees during the historic moment when the lights came on at the Arch of Triompe, symbolizing the end of the war in Europe! That moment, understandably, is one that Mac counts as one of her most significant as she celebrated the end of the war in Paris amid fellow friends and service members. 

With the war over, Mac returned to Texas and separated from the Army. Wanting to be an operating room nurse, she pursued further training at Baylor Nursing School in Dallas before joining McCloskey Veterans Administration Hospital in Temple, Texas. It was there that Mac decided she really wanted to go back into military service. This time she signed on with the U.S. Air Force and attended a six-week Flight Nurses Course at Gunter Air Force Station in Alabama.  As an air evacuation nurse, Mac began flying in the Pacific Theatre during the Korean War from bases such as Travis Air Force Base (AFB) in California; Hickam AFB in Hawaii; Johnson Island in the Marshall Islands; Wake Island, Midway Island, the Philippines; and other islands throughout the Pacific. Mac was present on the flight line in Tokyo, Japan during General MacArthur’s departure ceremony in April 1951.  

While serving as a hospital nurse at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth in 1948, Mac met Jerome (Jerry)Cribbs, manager of the base’s Officers Club. Once again the course of her life would be changed. The coupled married May 2, 1951 and Mac continued her Air Force career as an air evacuation nurse until 1953 when she became pregnant.  (During that time, military women were not allowed to be pregnant, causing her to separate from the Air Force before the birth of her firstborn, Maria.)  Mac served in an outstanding manner in two branches of our country’s armed forces during both WWII and the Korean Conflict.

Jerry was born in Electra, Texas, and like Mac, grew up in a very poor and rural community, experiencing first-hand the need for hard work. As a teen he enlisted in the Navy, but separated after a few years. He attended the University of Arizona and received his Army commission through ROTC, becoming a horse cavalry lieutenant patrolling the border between New Mexico and Mexico during the time when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He served most of WWII in the Pacific Theater, including an extensive tour at Guadalcanal.  

After WWII ended in 1947, the National Security Act established the U.S. Air Force and Jerome transferred his commission in order to work in security policy and intelligence. As Provost Marshall at the Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, Jerry served with the Joint U.S. Military Mission in Madrid, Spain before being assigned to the Pentagon.  Jerry served at the Pentagon until retiring in 1958 after 28 years of  outstanding service in three different branches of our country’s armed forces during WWII and the Korean Conflict.

Following Jerry’s retirement, the Cribbs family moved to land they purchased in Cleburne, Texas. Jerry was a high school teacher and principal and active in his community.  Mac was a highly respected nurse and operating room supervisor at the Johnson County Memorial Hospital for thirty years.  They raised four children:

Maria Cribbs Owens received a USAF commission through the Air Force ROTC while at Baylor University, serving 30 years before retiring at the rank of Brigadier General. Maria served at Kunsan Air Base in the Republic of Korea; Stuttgart, Germany and The Pentagon. She also was White House Social Aide in support of President Reagan.  She served as Base Commander of Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and as Executive Secretary to Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and Donald Rumsfeld. She was also Director of Manpower and Personnel for the Joint Chiefs of Staff while at The Pentagon.  

On September 11, 2001, Maria was in the The Pentagon when the terrorist’s plane hit the building.  Thankfully she was safely evacuated. Maria’s husband, Tom is a retired Air Force Colonel who, after graduating from the Air Force Academy, served two tours in Viet Nam flying F 4’s (316 combat missions). He was part of the Air Force’s initial cadre to fly the F15. Tom was also Wing Commander at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

Jerome Cribbs II spent 10 years in the USAF.  He was assigned to Charleston AFB and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He became a C141 Starlifter Cargo plane pilot and served as Presidential Advance Agent for President Ronald Reagan and then Vice President George H.W. Bush. In that role he traveled in advance of the President to ensure that the airports to which the President flew had proper logistical operations and security to support Air Force One. Among his many missions was the trip to the Soviet Union to support President Reagan’s trip to the Moscow Summit. His wife, Shirley (Sam) also spent 10 years in the USAF and served as the Protocol Officer to both the Eighth Air Force Commander of Barksdale AFB in LA and the Commander of Air Force Space Command in Colorado. Jerome is now a Delta Airlines International Captain rated on the Boeing 757 and 767 aircrafts.

Carlos Cribbs spent 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps with tours of duty in the Republic of Korea, Iceland and Venezuela. He served as USMC Officer in Support of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Western Sahara; as USMC Representative to the David Taylor Naval Research Laboratory for the Marine Corps Amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Carrier; and as Marine Corps Liaison to the Venezuela Navy and Marine Corps. Later, Carlos was assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Affairs Group as a liaison to the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. Carlos and his wife are currently Department of Defense School Teachers at Yongsan Base in Seoul, Korea.

Juan Miguel Cribbs is the only child of Mac and Jerry’s who elected non-military service, choosing instead to serve others as both a firefighter and police officer. He spent 10 years as a firefighter in Arlington, Texas. He is a graduate of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and is currently a Lieutenant assigned to the Detention Division as Jail Commander in Carroll County, Arkansas.

As a first generation American, Mac, Jerry, their children, and even their children’s spouses, believe in and support America. They are a wonderful example of a family with a unique bond of taking pride in their country and who are willing to work for and serve it. Mac continues the daily practice of raising the American flag at her home as was Jerry’s custom before his death in 2011.   

By Diane Ide