Flying High: World War II vet reflects on Army Air Corp. days

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    First Lt. Ray Miller has a table of memories in his room at Copper Trace in Westfield. (Photo by Anna Skinner)
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    First Lt. Ray Miller displays a model B-17 airplane, which he flew during World War II.
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    First Lt. Ray Miller flew B-17 bombers during World War II. (Submitted photo)
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    Ray Miller in 1941. (Submitted photo)

By Anna Skinner

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Raymond Miller was 18 years old and living in West Lafayette, Ind. He was studying civil engineering and playing basketball at Purdue University. He didn’t have a clue what was happening across the nation.

But upon returning home and realizing that the United States was under attack, Miller said he was first awestruck, then filled with rage.

“(My brother and I) got up and walked across the Wabash River and enlisted in the Army Air Corp.,” the now 94-year-old Copper Trace resident said. “The recruiting stations were just overwhelmed. They couldn’t begin to take care of all the people who were volunteering for service. That’s what my brother and I did.”

After enlisting, Miller was sent for training in the spring of 1942 and learned to fly bomber planes through the fall of 1944. He completed ground training, primary flight training, basic flight training, advanced flight training and more. He completed approximately 225 landings, performed, acrobatic flying and more. He was then sent overseas for combat missions as a co-pilot of a B-17 plane to Mannheim, Germany. Miller chose to go as a co-pilot rather than receive four more months of training to become a pilot.

“Even though the situation overseas was dire, they still gave their people adequate training before putting them in harm’s way,” Miller said. “And I appreciated that.”

Miller completed two combat missions in November 1944 over Mannheim, Germany. He was severely injured on the second.

A blast came throughthe window of Miller’s plane, cutting off his oxygen and embedding shrapnel in his chest and throat, shattering his breastbone. Other Army Air Corp. soldiers on the plane provided Miller with emergency first aid. Everyone on the plane survived. Miller had surgery to remove the shrapnel and received a Purple Heart and an Air Medal for his service.

Despite his injuries, Miller returned to service and flew 20 combat missions, including one in support of U.S. troops during the Dec. 24, 1944 opening of the Battle of the Bulge.

“When I recovered and I rejoined, that was when our people were surrounded at the Battle of the Bulge and about to be captured,” Miller recalled. “We flew what we called a maximum effort. We had 2,000 heavy bombers in the air and all the medium and light bombers we could muster, and 900 support flyers attacked Germany all day long. We attacked the German rail yards and stopped them from shipping in war materials and ammunition. It was the start of the end of the war.”

Miller and his brother, who loaded bombs on planes in Asia, both returned home safely after the war.

“The significant part of when I look back on why I decided to go overseas as a co-pilot and the thought came to me,  that’s because I got to participate in the Battle of the Bugle and free those men and women who were surrounded,” he said.

Now, Miller battling a blood infection at Copper Trace that requires daily intravenous antibiotics. He can no longer walk, but the veteran’s room is full of World War II memorabilia,  such as B-17 airplane models,  photos and music.

Miller said he “hasn’t given up” because he’s going to give a presentation at Carmel High School before Thanksgiving.

Indy Honor Flight

First Lt. Co-pilot Raymond Miller, a 94-year-old World War II veteran living at Copper Trace in Westfield, was able to travel to Washington, D.C., in 2012 as part of the Indy Honor Flight. Indy Honor Flight is a nonprofit designed to transport veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials. Miller has participated in raising money for Indy Honor Flight over the years and encourages others to donate. For more, visit indyhonorflight.org.

When his health allows, Miller also speaks to students about his experiences.