For Waxahachie natives Bill and Charleene Pitts, serving their community and their country has always been a source of pride.
In honor of their contributions, the Pittses will serve as the parade marshals for the 10th annual Fourth of July Parade as part of a holiday celebrating a love of country and community both have come to know so well.
“We wanted to honor Bill and Charleene Pitts,” said Bonney Ramsey, Crape Myrtle Festival chairman. “We just felt like they were the perfect couple to honor. We’re very blessed to have them in Waxahachie, we really are.”
The two self-proclaimed “childhood sweethearts” met in their grade school years at Ferris Ward, Charleene said.
“He was bell monitor. He was sort of a teacher’s pet,” Charleene said with a smile.
It was sixth-grader Bill’s job to keep track and ring the school’s bell at the appropriate time, a task that put him walking past fifth-grader Charleene McWhorter’s open classroom door, and she would look out when she heard him coming.
“He would always look in and give me a big wink,” she said.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Bill said. “Through high school, Trinity University and World War II.”
The couple remembers Dec. 7, 1941, with vivid clarity. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the two were on their weekly ritual of driving around Waxahachie’s downtown square.
“All of a sudden on the radio, they said the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor,” Bill said, recalling pulling over to simply sit and listen to the broadcast unfold.
Before the attack, Bill had planned to finish his final semester at Trinity University. Instead, he signed up with the Army Air Corps.
The young couple planned to marry when the war was over, but after six months they changed their minds.
“We decided we waited long enough,” Charleene said. “We were fortunate to be together 17 months before he was shipped out.”
Bill trained in Wisconsin and Connecticut as an aircraft mechanic and studied communications and electronics, and his new bride followed him, doing secretarial work to support herself so they could be together as long as possible.
“We got to see each other on the weekend,” Bill said, though the two had devised a rendezvous every evening when the enlisted men were allowed to check their mail while walking back to their quarters.
“We just had time for a quick kiss and that was all,” Charleene said. “But that was better than being 1,500 miles apart.”
Bill was sent to Europe, where he spent two years on what he likes to call an “all-expense paid tour,” constantly stationed in dangerous situations, including the Battle of the Bulge, to repair aircraft.
“I was in a combat area the entire time I was over there,” said Bill said, who was awarded five combat stars.
He was also trained in the then-new and classified technology, radar.
“Nobody could talk about it,” he said.
Charleene, meanwhile, returned to Waxahachie with the rationing and uncertainty of wartime at home.
“The only way we could get any news of the war was to go to the movies,” she said, explaining that only the short news reels in between feature films could give a visual impression of the war, far different from today’s up-to-the-minute coverage of worldwide events.
The Battle of the Bulge was the most anxious period for her, she said.
“That was the one time we hadn’t heard from him in six weeks,” she said. “It was a sad Christmas that year. We didn’t know if he was dead or alive.”
Charleene said Waxahachie’s residents, nearly all of who had family in the war, came together to support one another.
“We all helped each other by sticking together,” she said. “We made some lasting friendships because of the closeness the town had.”
Looking back, however, the couple doesn’t see the period as a “bad time” in their lives.
“That instilled in us an everlasting streak of patriotism,” Bill said, with Charleene concurring.
“He is a staunch patriot and an Eagle Scout, which he is very proud of,” she said.
Bill continued in the military for seven more years as part of the U.S. Air Force, which formed in 1947, and was recalled to serve in the Korean War. The Pittses, then with sons Mack and Rick, spent three years of Bill’s service in Alaska while it was still a territory, and gave birth to their daughter, Jennifer, there.
Finally, in 1958, the two decided to come home to raise their children in the community they grew up in, watching them graduate from the same schools they remembered so well.
“We’ve enjoyed living here all of our lives,” said Bill, who took a job with Chance Vought Aircraft, staying with it through transitions to Ling-Temco-Vaught until his retirement 23 years ago, while Charleene worked as a stay-at-home mom.
Over the years, the Pittses have seen dramatic changes in their hometown, which has exploded from a total population of 7,000 during their childhoods to more than 20,000.
“We just have a love of Waxahachie and always have,” Charleene said. “Right now it is exploding — we can see it.”
Bill said the swift changes can be bittersweet.
“Some of it makes us sad to see things change, but that’s normal, that’s life,” he said.
The Pittses spent time traveling across the United States and Europe when they first retired, but now stick closer to home, volunteering with the Ellis County Museum and the Auxiliary to Baylor Medical Center in Waxahachie.
Charleene, a breast cancer survivor, also volunteers with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program for those coping with the disease.
“That’s really my love, is being a volunteer with the American Cancer Society,” she said.
The two have also given talks about their wartime experiences and simply enjoy spending time together. Both still say they are married to their best friend.
“We have been so blessed, we really truly have,” Charleene said. “We just enjoy every day.”