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GILES, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

GILES, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1892–1974). Benjamin Franklin Giles, Air Force general, was born on September 13, 1892, on a farm near Mineola, Texas, to Richard Portlock and Louisa (Read) Giles. With his identical twin brother, Barney M. Giles, he attended East Texas State Teachers College, where they both received their teachers' certificates. For the next three years they taught in Ochiltree and Gray counties, and then decided to go to the University of Texas to study law. World War I changed their plans. Because of his interest in learning to fly, Ben went to Canada to investigate joining the Royal Flying Corps. While he was there, America entered the war, and both brothers joined the United States Army. Ben was sent to the Officers Training Camp at Leon Springs, Texas, and received his commission as a second lieutenant of infantry on April 2, 1917. He transferred to the aviation section of the Signal Corps to take training in aerial observation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and a gunnery course at Selfridge Field, Michigan. On July 9, 1918, Ben was sent to France. He frequently flew over enemy territory as an aerial observer and gunner and was credited with downing several enemy planes. On his return to America, and without a regular commission, Ben asked to be discharged and was, on October 16, 1919. He went to work for a relative in Ranger, Texas, during the oil boom, but at the urging of Barney, he rejoined the air service on March 8, 1920, as a first lieutenant. During the early 1920s Ben served at several posts in Texas. He was promoted to captain in 1921 and graduated from the Air Service Primary Flying School in 1923 and the Advanced Flying School in 1924. He commanded a detachment at Fort Leavenworth for several years and served for a time in the Philippines. During the early 1930s Ben was the operations officer at Kelly Field. In 1934 Ben and Barney were appointed to the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama. In 1935 Ben was promoted to the rank of major. In 1939 he graduated from the Command and General Staff School and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He then became chief of the Aviation Division of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. In December 1941 he was promoted to colonel.

During the fall of 1941 Ben was asked to investigate several sites for Arctic Air bases. By June 1942 he was commanding the Greenland Base. He urged the establishment of an American-controlled airway all the way to Great Britain. With the new North Atlantic Wing established at Presque Isle, Maine, Colonel Giles became the commander and later was promoted to brigadier general in August 1942. Because of his Arctic flights, he was awarded the Air Medal for "meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flights when he personally volunteered to undertake a hazardous survey with untried navigational facilities and lack of flying aids." In October 1943 Brigadier General Giles became the Ninth Airforce Troop Carrier commander in Europe, and in March 1944 he was appointed commanding general of the United States Air Forces in the Middle East, stationed in Cairo, Egypt, where he showed his talents for administration and diplomacy. He was appointed major general in May 1944. General Giles retired September 1946, after twenty-nine years of service, always rated as a command pilot. When he retired, he was offered and took the position of vice president of Trans World Airlines and then served on the board of the Twentieth Century Fox Film Company. General Giles married Helen Gaul, the daughter of J. A. Gaul, in San Antonio. His second marriage was to Captain Ann Mealer, an army nurse who served on Corregidor and was a Japanese prisoner for three years. They were married February 28, 1949. They had one daughter, Sallye Ann Giles Helder. General Giles died on November 30, 1974, in San Antonio and was buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. He was a member of the Christian Church in his early years and later of the Episcopal Church. His honors include the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf clusters, the Legion of Merit, and the Air Medal with oak leaf clusters. He was also a Knight Commander of the British Empire and the holder of other foreign decorations. He was a charter member of the Daedalians.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 10, 1943. San Antonio Express, December 3, 1974. U.S. Air Force Historical Division, The Army Air Forces in World War II, ed. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate (7 vols., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948–58).

Anne Giles Kimbrough

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Anne Giles Kimbrough, "GILES, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgiff), accessed November 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.