Dick Miller might not be the Aurora area’s oldest Globe War II veteran, but he’s got to be one particular of its most active.
With his 97th birthday just a handful of weeks away, the Navy man, whose ship was sunk by Japanese kamikazes close to Okinawa, the bloodiest battle of the war in the Pacific, regularly speaks in nearby schools and at civic groups, and is often recognized and honored at patriotic events all through the Fox Valley.
He’s also been a guest on Honor Flight and has gone to Midway Airport a number of occasions to welcome dwelling other vets, has visited Washington, D.C., on the Vets Roll bus trip, been honored by the White Sox at Assured Price Field with plans to return and final fall flew by private jet to the Army/Navy football game.
On Monday Miller stuck closer to dwelling so he could take component in Aurora’s Memorial Day Parade. Later that day he drove his John Deere tractor down the left side of Hankes Road to attend a significant vacation picnic at the dwelling of Vietnam War veteran Ed Huss.
Hunting back on his lengthy life, Miller acknowledges his adventures by auto, tractor, train, plane and of course by ship. Later that afternoon, Miller even added motorcycle to that list when he donned a pair of old aviator goggles and took a brisk ride up and down Hankes Road in the sidecar of a Harley Davidson owned by Jim Gibson, whose late father Keith was a squadron patrol commander with the Navy.
“You have to preserve moving,” stated the affable Miller, who nonetheless drives his personal auto and lives independently.
“My little ones want me to go into a nursing dwelling,” he stated, admitting he’d taken a fall that morning in his dwelling and that he struggles with neuropathy in his suitable leg that causes discomfort and limits movement.
“But I attempt not to let it slow me down,” Miller insisted, in significant component since he’s got such a powerful want to preserve alive the memories of these 158 males who went down on his ship, the USS Drexler, as properly as the other pretty much five,000 sailors who lost their lives throughout the brutal Okinawa campaign.
Miller, who had begged his widowed mother to let him enlist in the Navy following graduating from East Aurora Higher College at age 17, had been on duty as a spotter on the Drexler in the early morning hours of May possibly 28, 1945, when two enemy suicide plans attacked his ship and the USS Lowry.
The very first Japanese plane was downed by the combined fire of the two destroyers and from the combat air patrol. The second kamikaze attempted to crash into the Lowry but alternatively hit Miller’s ship, cutting off all energy and beginning significant gasoline fires.
According to Naval accounts, regardless of heavy harm, the Drexler kept firing, assisting to bring down 3 Japanese planes. But one more enemy suicide plane crashed into the destroyer, causing a large explosion that rolled the ship on its starboard side and sank it inside 50 seconds.
For the reason that of the speed in which it went down, casualties had been heavy. In addition to the practically 160 dead, there had been 52 wounded sailors, which includes Miller who, attempting not to swallow oil and diesel fuel when bobbing in a burning ocean, watched in horror as a lot of of his shipmates, trapped beneath deck, went to their watery graves.
For these who ask about this battle – or any of his Globe War II recollections – it is clear Miller’s thoughts remains amazingly sharp. He’s also speedy to reference other people from Aurora who fought for this nation, in particular these who died or had been longtime prisoners of war.
Of course Miller misses Dorothy, his late wife of 65 years whom he met in very first grade. And it can get challenging dealing with the ravages of time. But you are not going to hear this old sailor complain, not even a small bit.
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“I’m pleased,” he insisted, a truth reflected not only in his smile but in the vibrant light nonetheless visible in these practically century-old eyes.
Miller is totally conscious he’s had a blessed life, and that every passing year suggests there are fewer like him nonetheless alive who can so personally remind us of the sacrifices that have been produced for the freedoms we delight in.
As is the case with other Globe War II vets, he’s “disheartened” by the news that dominates headlines these days, worried about the path the nation is going but not about to shed hope.
It’s but one more cause Miller is determined to attend as a lot of events as achievable, whether or not it is a patriotic parade or a Pearl Harbor Day Luncheon or the opening of an Oswego pavilion or a GAR Museum dedication. It is why he will not turn down an invitation to speak to little ones in schools or to adults in civic organizations or to nearby reporters who never ever tire of stories told by members of this Greatest Generation.
“You attempt to neglect the undesirable stuff … but it is why I put on this hat,” Miller told me, referring to his custom-produced ball cap that honors these who served on the USS Drexler 78 years ago.
“I assume of them all the time.”