EDITOR’S NOTE: The following feature series profiles Ellis County veterans killed in the line of service to their country during the 20th century.
The features, researched and written by Perry Giles, are read in first-person voice by area students and special guests during the annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony as a special way to remember and pay tribute to our friends, classmates and neighbors who gave their lives for our freedom.
“We Were Soldiers Once and Young” will appear every Sunday in the Daily Light through Veterans Day.
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Julian Luna. I was raised in Forreston, and graduated from Forreston High School. I married my sweetheart, Viola, and started a family.
Then in 1953, I joined the Army and trained as a light weapons specialist. Life in the Army suited me just fine, and it seemed that I was pretty good at it, so I volunteered for the Airborne and went to Jumpmaster training and Ranger training.
They made me a squad leader, and sent us to Alaska to train in winter weather conditions. All I can say about that is that we never had weather like that back in Forreston. No sir, we sure didn’t!
In 1956, I was sent to Germany, where I served for 29 months. During that time, we were stationed where they thought the next war might happen. And my unit, the 503rd Airborne Infantry, we were the tip of the sword.
After my tour in Germany was over, I served as a squad leader with the 1st Airborne Brigade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky for the next five years. As it turned out, I was pretty good at this soldier business, so I decided to make a career out of it.
Then in 1962, I was sent to Korea where I served on the DMZ for 13 months. It seemed like I was spending my whole career setting in some forgotten miserable outpost and staring down the Communists. It was all guts and no glory.
When I got back to the states, I went to Fort Benning, Georgia and trained as an Airborne Pathfinder. We were an elite group of paratroopers that went in before the main force. I really enjoyed to camaraderie and the challenge. Then in the summer of ’65, we got orders to ship out to Vietnam.
During my time in the “Nam,” I served as a squad leader, a forward observer, an operations and intelligence specialist, and the leader of a Shock Force Reconnaissance team. After a while it all seemed to come natural to me, as strange as that sounds. I had a job to do and my guys were depending on me. The man to your left and the man to your right, we were all there for each other.
I fought in six major campaigns, including the Tet Offensive in ‘68. After two tours of duty and 33 months in the “‘Nam.” I came home to Fort Benning where I was an instructor for the Army Rangers. After about a year as an instructor, I grew restless and decided to volunteer to go back into combat.
Some of my old friends back in Forreston tried to talk me out of going back, but I felt like that we had not finished our job over there.
So I went back, I can’t explain why, I just needed to go back.
In the spring of 1970, I was back “In Country” as a platoon sergeant with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division.
We were airmobile, the “Currahee” battalion and our motto was, “We Stand Alone.”
Our unit had a proud heritage passed down from our World War II brothers. There was a lot for us to live up to.
We were a fine group of fighting men, America’s best. I was proud of my men, all of them. This much I can tell you, we never lost a battle.
It was my third tour of combat duty. The summer of 1970, and we were on patrol in the Binh Thuan province of South Vietnam. … Then it happened.
I stepped on a land mine. I heard the click. Time seemed to slow down as my mind raced back.
My thoughts went back to my wife and seven children back in Forreston.
It was July 9, 1970 and I was 36 years old.
We were soldiers once, and young.
Perry Giles serves as co-chair of the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Committee. The 2014 countywide tribute to veterans is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Waxahachie Civic Center followed by a wreath presentation at the Ellis County Veterans Memorial located in front of the center.