Effort aims to get more WWII vets in Panama City, Fla. parade
The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A local veteran is spearheading an effort to unite all of Bay County’s World War II veterans for the Nov. 12 Veterans Day parade.
Jim Giles, 87, served his country in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945 and a few years later he re-enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served until his retirement in 1966. During his World War II service, Giles was aboard the USS Vincennes that escorted bombing raids on Tokyo and participated in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. Giles’ ship was sunk in the Guadalcanal campaign in August 1942.
“You never forget,” Giles said. “I still remember some of my friends who were killed that night we were sunk. You never forget what you’ve done and what your experience was.”
Those memories are difficult to discuss with people who haven’t been through the same thing, Giles said, which is his primary motivation for trying to bring all the area World War II veterans together this year.
“I have one friend in Yorktown, Va., who I talk to now and again, but he’s 95 years old,” Giles said.
This is the second year Giles has tried to rally his cohorts in advance of Veterans Day. Last year he was able to contact 14 people and 12 participated in the parade, but Bay County Veterans Services estimates there are many more World War II veterans than that in Bay County.
Giles said he recently read 1,500 to 1,600 World War II veterans die daily and the time for a reunion is running out. On the U.S.S. Vincennes there were four men from Lynn Haven, Giles said, and all but one of them is dead.
The Woman’s Club of Panama City is helping Giles in his quest and has volunteered to host a dinner for the area World War II veterans Nov. 11. Jan Gainer, president of the club, said the event will be open to all World War II veterans and not just those from Bay County.
“We are completely committed to a dinner honoring these men,” she said. “I would love to say that this clubhouse is overrun.”
The Woman’s Club will cook for the veterans and will be driving them in the Nov. 12 parade. Officials at Veterans Services said several places have been reserved for the group in the parade. Gainer said she and the club members are very excited to recognize the humble, self-sacrificing veterans.
“The reason we can volunteer in this community is because of the sacrifices of these men,” she said.