Stories of V-E Day: Vince Giles

By: Brian Louwers | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 29, 2015

 Vince Giles and three of his brothers served overseas during World War II. All four returned from service.

Vince Giles and three of his brothers served overseas during World War II. All four returned from service.

Photo by Brian Louwers


Editor's note: This story was included in a full-length C & G Newspapers feature commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of World War II in Europe. The war in Europe ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945. Metro Detroit residents graciously shared their stories in interviews conducted between January and April 2015. Click here for more V-E Day stories from our coverage area.

Vince Giles, 89, Sterling Heights

Vincent Giles was born in Windsor, Ontario. His family moved to Detroit in 1935, where his father had been working as a superintendent for a stove manufacturer.

When World War II came, Giles and his three brothers went into the U.S. Army. He was drafted in February 1944, three months before he finished high school.

After basic training, the Army taught him how to drive an M5 light tank and sent him to Europe. He was originally assigned to the 11th Armored Division but ended up with the 4th Armored. He arrived in France at the port of Le Havre in late 1944, and his company immediately headed toward Paris.

Giles said his five-man tank crew was involved in sporadic fighting during the Battle of the Bulge, but never took a direct hit on the tank. The work consisted mostly of “mopping up” retreating German troops, but he said the boys in the M5 had to be on constant alert for fanatical Hitler Youth fighters prone to rushing at the tank, hell-bent on destroying them with hand-held anti-tank launchers.

“The worst thing in the world war — and it still bothers me, I wake up at night thinking about it — was the Hitlerjugend, 10- and 12-year-old kids, and they’d give their life for a tank,” Giles recalled. “We’d see them coming. We couldn’t let them hit us.”

After the Battle of the Bulge, the M5 crew was sent to Czechoslovakia. Giles recalled the day that 400 Germans surrendered to his company in Pilsen, a town famous for its beer.

“All we did was make sure they didn’t have any arms and told them to start walking west,” Giles said. “I guess the infantry picked them up.”

Less than two weeks later, he said the company commander called the men together and told them the war was over.

“He said, ‘Don’t let up, though. There’s work to do yet,’” Giles said.

The Army wanted to give him a 30-day pass if he agreed to sign on to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. He’d had enough, so he declined the offer.

He remembered sailing into New York’s harbor in the summer of 1945.  

“Boats with the water shooting up, they really gave us a reception,” Giles said. “There were troops coming home every day. People standing on the dock shaking your hand, hugging you.”

He said his whole family — his mother and father, two sisters, and three brothers who also fought overseas — came out to meet him when he arrived back in Detroit.

“We all came home,” Giles remembered. “It was just wonderful. It was — it’s hard to explain, really. Yep, it was all over.”

He recalled how an officer told him to remember to take his citizenship paperwork when he was discharged from the Army. Of course, he forgot in all the excitement.

“When the officer handed me the discharge paper, I just ran,” he said.

It took some running around to secure the paperwork, but Vince Giles said he finally got the official citizenship documentation in 1946. He retired after a career with the Square D electrical company, where he met his wife. They have been married for 60 years. They had three children and now have five grandchildren.