A GREAT MAN
This is a long-overdue and most inadequate eulogy to the late Master Sergeant Harry C. Miller, United States Army Air Corps, from Denver, Colorado. I first met Harry Miller in 1941 when he was a Private in our 45th Bomb Squadron, 40th Bomb Group, at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico. Harry served in the 45th Squadron until his death on a combat mission against Japan in October 1944.
Private Harry C. Miller was a talented young aircraft mechanic. We soon realized that his character, intelligence, diligence and amazing sense of humor set him apart from others. Despite his youth and rank of Private, he was a technical authority on our bombers. He earned promotions as the 40th Bomb Group moved from airfields at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico; France Field, Canal Zone; David, Panama; Galapagos Island (The Rock); Pratt, Kansas; Chakulia, India; Hsinching, China; and Tinian, Mariana Islands.
During these relocations of his group and changes of assigned aircraft, Harry kept abreast of increasing complexities of each new bomber. The unit operated B-18, LB-30, B-24, B-17, B-26 and B-29 type aircraft. Throughout these changes, supplies were limited and maintenance facilities ranged from poor to marginal. As we were assigned new and more complex aircraft, Crew Chief Harry Miller soon learned their systems and how to maintain his plane in flying condition.
This outstanding ability to quickly adjust to a new airplane was never more evident than during the dreadful winter of 1943-44 at Pratt, Kansas. Working conditions on the flight line were similar to those found at Alaskan airfields in a very cold winter. Hangar space was limited, and most maintenance was accomplished outdoors in frigid temperatures where cruel winds drove the chill factor down so far that mechanics had to go indoors periodically to get warm. Learning how to maintain and fly the new B-29 in those conditions became known as The Battle of Kansas. Harry Miller not only became an authority on B-29s, but he inspired others as he helped them learn their jobs.
We received the first production B-29s from three different factories. No two planes were alike since modifications and design changes were made to them as they moved on their assembly lines. The complexities of radar, remote control turrets, pressurized cabins, and the giant R-3350 aircraft engine presented the greatest technical challenge the 40th Bomb Group ever faced. Modifications continued after the planes were delivered to Pratt. This follow-on work was completed by mechanics like Harry Miller, and by flight crews, factory technical representatives, Wright Field experts, Boeing Company technicians, and service personnel from subcontractors.
While aircrews were completing combat crew flight training in the B-29, Harry Miller worked as a mechanic on the flight line, attended classroom lectures, and increased his knowledge of the plane. Of course, no man is indispensable in a military unit, but I would nominate Harry Miller for that fictional honor. In April 1944, the 40th Bomb Group moved to its overseas base at Chakulia, India. During a German bomber attack on the harbor at Naples, Italy, the cargo ship loaded with the group's supplies and maintenance equipment was sunk. Harry Miller's expertise was never in greater demand than during the period following that transfer when the lack of the items lost in Italy seriously hampered the routine maintenance of his plane.
Harry Miller received recognition for his outstanding knowledge of the B-29 by being placed on flying status as the Flight Engineer on Captain Jack Ledford's aircrew. For six months, he was no less effective in the air than he was on the ground. Unfortunately, during a combat mission against Omura, Japan, in October 1944, he suffered severe head wounds and became unconscious. He lived for several hours while the crew was flying toward Chakulia. When the crew was forced to bail out of the crippled B-29 over the mountains of central China, Captain Ledford, who was also badly wounded, bailed out with Harry in a caring effort to accompany him to the ground. Harry Miller died soon after reaching the ground. The crew buried him near the remote village of Fanghsien in Hupeh Province.
The surviving crew members were rescued and taken to their base at Chakulia, India. When they had recovered from their wounds and injuries, they were assigned a new B-29 and promptly named it THE HARRY MILLER. To my knowledge, this was the only B-29 named for a deceased crew member. The HARRY MILLER, and its aircrew, rolled up an illustrious record before the 20th Air Force concluded its air assault against the Japanese Empire.
I am very proud to have known and served with Harry Miller. He was a great man, admired and respected by all who knew him. His life, as brief as it was, is best described by Sir Thomas Carlyle who said: No Great Man Lives in Vain.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *