By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — Even though Stanley Gilles worked three years for Illinois Bell as a lineman before he was drafted to Korea, the Army assigned him to the infantry.
When he pointed out his communications experience, he was given advanced infantry training. He eventually joined the 3rd Division Artillery, Headquarters Battery, as wire chief.
Oh, and he also had a pilot’s license that went to waste. Later, as he was being discharged, he was given a pep talk to get some helicopter training.
So the military eventually sorts things out, mainly, and Gilles sorted out the communications lines.
His team repaired severed lines. Sometimes, tanks had run over them. Other times, possibly, the North Koreans had cut them.
Once, several days in a row, the same line was cut. Gilles figured out it was a Korean farmer binding his rice crop in the communications wire.
The biggest danger he was in during the war was from hemorrhagic fevers, which made him bleed heavily internally.
A few other fellows in his group got it, too, Gilles said, and they had to be medically evacuated.
He also spent five days in Japan for rest and recreation, and even ran into an old friend from Pesotum.
Gilles, 87, originally from Pesotum, moved to Tuscola and graduated from Champaign High. He was drafted and sent to Korea in 1951.
It was 30 below at times.
He downplays the danger of setting communications wire in a war zone. But he does admit there was sniper fire once and a mortar attack another time.
“They didn’t come close to hitting us,” he said.
Gilles, who left the service as a sergeant first class, was in charge of about 35 people in the communications crew as wire chief.
The crew often noticed “Bed Check Charlie,” a Chinese biplane that flew over the troops.
After the war, he married Pat — they’ve been together 61 years — and they had six children.
He spent 39 years with Illinois Bell and AT&T. He retired in 1987.
Rather than the Korean War, he’d prefer to talk about his recent return from an Honor Flight from Springfield to the nation’s capital.
He was deeply moved by a fire truck salute when his plane landed at Reagan National Airport.
In the terminal, there was spontaneous applause for the Honor Flight participants and their guardians, he said. (Son Dan won the lottery to accompany him.)
They visited war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in their busy day.
“I really felt the appreciation,” Gilles said.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.