From records, letters and interviews, Perry Giles has long honored the lives of Ellis County veterans through first-person narratives.
The amateur historian has spent the past 35 years researching storylines and compiling profiles for about 50 individuals.
"It's significant to remember — people need to remember these men and what they gave for you," Giles explained.
Giles was born in the Waxahachie Sanitarium, and graduated from Waxahachie High in 1973 — the same year the draft ended and the Vietnam War drew to a close.
He'd lived through some of the world's most prominent wars and found the topic fascinating. Billy Hancock, his eighth-grade teacher, was an initial influence. Giles even remembers watching "The Longest Day" at the Texas Theater in downtown.
"The life was in the downtown square," he noted.
Giles noted the majority of men in downtown were World War II veterans. Even though the servicemen did not convey any affiliations with the military, nor discussed the matter, their ora made them distinctive.
Giles later attended the University of Texas at Austin where he studied business and geology. By trade, Giles is in the headstone business and has operated Giles Monument since he graduated from UT. In the early years of his work, Giles walked several cemeteries throughout Ellis County and began to notice "killed in action" chiseled on graves.
He quickly grew curious about the truths of the men who rested and steadily began to investigate their pasts.
"I've interviewed family members, and in some cases, interviewing men that were with them in the service; or actually with them when they died," Giles explained. "It's a lot of detective work."
Studies into the soldiers' lives typically begin with the internet where information about units and military experience is discovered.
HEROES OF D-DAY
Research conducted by Giles found two Ellis County men died in combat during D-Day on June 6, 1944. Roscoe Wilson, 23, of Midlothian, served in the U.S. Air Force when he died after his airplane spiraled out of control.
Jessie Cleveland was born and raised in Ennis near the Trinity River and was one of 12 children. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army and was within the first waves to storm Omaha Beach.
It took Giles 10 years to research and write the nine-page story. The sister of Cleveland was interviewed along with two men who served alongside the veteran on Omaha Beach.
Giles also came across a war hero who worked as a history teacher in Waxahachie. Denver Marsh was a lead pilot station in England during WWII. One hundred bomber planes followed Marsh in combat, all waiting for the signal to drop their load.
"If you're leading 100 airplanes, he was leading 1,000 men in combat. Cause there are 10 men in each plane," Giles explained. "His son didn't know this."
Marsh's son lives in San Angelo and was not familiar with his father's legacy. The information provided closure and allowed him to connect with men who knew his father.
Giles struck gold when a 90-year-old woman requested his services to write about her brother who served in WWII— Clinton Howard Greene. The woman presented Giles with handwritten letters and a reasonably small diary.
Daily entries were typically a page long and recorded travels around the world.
"He would talk about his girlfriend and thinking about going to the big dance back home," Giles recalled.
"The most interesting part of this diary was in the last entry, it was the day he got killed," Giles noted. "It was the invasion of Cecile, and he flew one of the transport planes that was full of paratroopers."
Giles summarized the final entry that noted the soldier left the diary to be sent back to his mother, so maybe someday a person could get some use out of it.
Greene is buried in Ennis.
In the 1980s, Giles and former Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins made plans to install a veterans monument near the Ellis County Courthouse, only to be denied by a state association. They spent the following years searching for an appropriate site.
The two eventually decided on an area outside of the Waxahachie Civic Center, prompting the two to spend the next three years fundraising for an appropriate memorial site.
"David Hudgins did most of the fundraising, and I did the research for the names of the dead," Giles recalled. "We set up a point system. You have to have these rules."
Individuals were ranked and required a score of at least three to have their name engraved in stone. Two qualifications included being born in Ellis County and graduating high school in the county.
For the next three years, Hudgins fundraised approximately $150,000 while Giles conducted extensive research and narrowed down around 300 names.
He also noted that veterans recognized on the memorial served from WWII to present, with the majority involved in the Vietnam War.
In November 2000, donors, veterans and the community gathered for the dedication ceremony. Even though the climate was "cold, wet and miserable," a crowd showed up, Giles recalled.
The 20th anniversary of the ceremony will take place on Nov. 11 with details being released as the time draws near. To view the monument, visit the western plaza of the Waxahachie Civic Center, located at 2000 Civic Center Ln. along I-35E in Waxahachie.
To view the names inscribed on the monument are here.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450