0531MONUMENTListen as Van Peeples reads one of the letters written to his father by a friend who had already gone off to serve in World War II.
For some, history is something learned from textbooks or college lectures. But then there’s the history learned from those who lived it.
“A lot of times when you think about history, you want to go to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but a lot of it is just right here,” said Van Peeples, who grew up in the New Holland area of Gainesville.
For the past few years, he’s endeavored to learn the history of World War II veterans from New Holland, all of whom are honored on a monument in front of Milliken & Co.’s plant on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville. His father, W.S. Peeples, and uncle, W.E. Peeples, are just a few of the names inscribed there.
The monument was dedicated May 31, 1947. Members of the Lions Club and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8452 recently cleaned it up in preparation for Memorial Day, but they didn’t know its history. Peeples has a binder full of it.
Sitting by the monument last week, he pulled out pictures from the dedication, letters from soldiers listed there and newspaper articles about the event.
Pictures show Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright in attendance at the event. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines, Wainwright became senior field commander of U.S. and Filipino forces.
“I was here that day. My mother was pregnant with me,” Peeples said. “So I was born a few months later.”
Peeples’ father served in the Philippines during the war, but he was about 18 months younger than many of his friends. They kept in touch through letters.
“What do you think about Georgia letting Auburn beat them after going so long undefeated?” wrote Willard P. Jones, who later died in the war.
“I got me a real good-looking girlfriend,” Francis M. Bone wrote.
Jim Coffee wrote of patriotism.
“I look over the field of hundreds and hundreds of boys standing at attention. The color, the glory and moments like those are so great ... you have all kind of feelings, your chest sticks out, your pride is so great that you can hardly hold it.”
Peeples has tracked down some of those listed on the monument, though many have died.
Most are familiar names, though. Many worked at the textile mill operated by Pacolet Manufacturing Co. at the time. They went to school just down the road, used the recreation hall nearby and worshipped just up the street at the Methodist or Baptist church.
“It was a very close-knit community, and everybody knew everybody,” Peeples said.
And they fought to protect that community.
“There’s a play field behind that school. I think maybe they just wanted to come back to New Holland,” Peeples said. “They weren’t fighting some big ideal. They wanted to make sure I could play on that field and my grandsons could.”