In mid-September 1918, McKinney native James “Jimmie” Henry Geigas was walking back from a stream in St. Mihiel, France, where he and another soldier filled canteens with water, when a German biplane flew over them and dropped a bomb.
It landed next to Geigas.
At just 27 years old, Geigas was the first McKinney kid to be killed in action on foreign soil in World War I, retired U.S. Marine RD Foster said. But before he enlisted into the army, Geigas was much more than just a soldier. He was also an orphan who worked at a grocery store in McKinney, delivering groceries on his bike. Everybody in town, at the time, knew him.
Yet Geigas’ story, like those of many Collin County soldiers who went to battle and lost their lives, can be easily forgotten as the years continue on. But Foster and U.S. Air Force veteran Colin Kimball refuse to let their names and faces die with them.
As part of the North Texas Fallen Warrior Portrait Project, Foster and Kimball unveiled five new portraits of Collin County men who died while serving their country Monday morning at the Russell A. Steindam Courts Building in McKinney, adding to the already 76 portraits of fallen heroes on display.
The portraits included Geigas, William G. Burnett, Harold Lemuel Patterson, Robert W. Blaine and Tommie Vaughn White.
“This is a wonderful project where we get to hear the stories of the lives of those that are pictured here in the Hall of Heroes in our courthouse,” Collin County Judge Chris Hill said at the small ceremony. “We wouldn’t have that opportunity if it weren’t for Mr. Foster, Mr. Kimball and the work that they’ve done to assemble these portraits, to reach out to these families and to tell those stories.”
Putting faces to the names
Back in 2004, Foster and a few other veterans started the Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney after working for over seven years to raise over $2 million. There are 428 names engraved into the memorial’s black granite, consisting of Collin County men and women who went off to service and didn’t come home. It spans from those before WWI through the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan.
Every single name on the memorial is because Foster spent countless hours and years looking through digital and microfilm archives to find each name. He’s also written four books about the stories behind the memorial’s names and is working on his fifth one now.
But what many of those names and stories are missing are photos to go with them. And that’s where Kimball comes in.
Kimball creates portraits of the fallen soldiers digitally, usually basing them off of portrait photographs, which are extremely difficult to find. But once he finds one, he starts by using Photoshop to put the soldier’s face onto a body. He then adds all of the soldier’s badges, which he said can be complicated because army men “decorate their uniforms with so much.” After that, he uses the program Painters to paint the photos and backgrounds digitally.
“There’s some free hand in there, but it’s basically a high-tech photo restoration,” Kimball said. “I’m creating something that didn’t exist.”
After the unveiling, Judge Hill and county commissioners unanimously agreed to accept all five portraits into the “Hall of Heroes” at the ceremony.
A couple of hours later, commissioners approved the acceptance of a $250,000 grant for the Veterans Accessing Lifelong Opportunities for Rehabilitation Program at the commissioners court meeting. The VALOR program provides veteran-specific treatment and services for offenders who need a treatment program to help reintegrate them into society.
The Texas Veterans Commission awarded the program a grant that will run from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
The commissioners also approved the acceptance of a $500,000 grant from the Texas Veterans Commission for the North Texas Regional Veterans Court Program. The court program helps justice-involved veterans from Collin, Rockwall, Grayson, Kaufman and Fannin counties. It will also run from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
Just like Foster and Kimball, the county commissioners’ acceptance of the grants, according to Judge Hill, is another way the community is helping local veterans. He called their acceptance of the portraits so much more than what people may realize.
“It’s an opportunity for our community to come together,” he said.