For Giles, Veterans Day is not only a time to honor all military veterans, but also an important reminder that the nation's WWII veterans are quickly passing away and that time is running out for him to preserve the memories of those who lived through those terrible times more than 60 years ago.
In the face of this challenge, Giles has worked doubly hard to document their experiences and share their stories with people around the world. This year, he was awarded a University of Maine System Trustee Professorship, which has allowed him to complete a significant amount of documentation and research.
Giles was able to take a spring sabbatical and share his research by lecturing on three different Pacific cruises that visited many of the islands associated with WWII in the Pacific. Giles offered lectures on everything from Guadalcanal and the Battle of Iwo Jima to the conquest of Guam, Saipan and Tinian aboard the Cruise West: Legends of the Pacific, Cruise West: Pearls of Polynesia, and the Princess Cruise: World Cruise on the Pacific Princess (South Pacific portion) voyages.
The Trusteeship also allowed him to document more WWII history and historical sites, as well as the culture and history of the islands where veterans served. During the cruises, Giles was able to photograph and interview WWII veterans and island elders who were associated with Japanese and U.S. operations in WWII. The Trusteeship also allowed him to spend two weeks on the island of Tinian working on various research projects.
"I've gathered all this information and had these opportunities to show it to people from all over the world," Giles said. "It's significant in many ways: it provided a deeper understanding for those who got to visit the islands, and for the many others who will never get to see those islands first-hand, this work is going to give them the opportunity to at least view these places through photographs and film."
Giles' many projects related to WWII in the Pacific have not only touched the local community and people across the state, but also national and international audiences. He has completed two feature-length documentary films - his two-hour documentary "Thunder from Tinian" won a Telly Award in 1997 and last year he completed his second documentary "Echoes from the Apocalypse, Tinian: 60 Years Later" - and numerous other research projects on World War II, including filming eyewitness testimonials by war veterans, documenting historical sites in the Pacific, and photographing veterans at former combat sites. Giles also has served as a consultant for the audio-visual components of the National Parks Service Museum on WWII on Saipan and has led numerous tours back to Tinian and other islands involved in the war in the Pacific.
Researching WWII in the Pacific has been a long-time passion for Giles, whose father, H.A. Giles, Jr., was a member of the 4th Marine Division and participated in storming the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. H.A. Giles, Jr. was killed in combat near the end of the Korean War when Giles was four.
Giles continues to share his research with as many audiences as possible. Most recently, he served as the keynote speaker at the 504th Bomb Group Reunion in Colorado Springs, Colo. in September. The 504th Bomb Group was one of the units that participated in the historical B-29 bombing campaign against Japan in 1945. He discussed the WWII history of Tinian, the island from which the 504th Bomb Group operated, as well as contemporary issues associated with the island and the Pacific region today. He also presented a slide lecture in which he shared his collection of rare archival images and his latest discoveries in the jungles of Tinian.
As for the research he has conducted in 2008, Giles will be organizing the material and synthesizing it into new projects, such as paintings and publications.
"Especially with Veterans Day in mind, I want to apply my research to as many projects as possible so that a wider audience can better appreciate the sacrifices that our WWII veterans made for this country," Giles said. "This is the best way I can think of to honor our veterans."
Giles will offer a presentation about his 2008 visit to the Pacific at a future date. For more information, please contact 768-9452.