Just a plain soldier

By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, ED.D.
Photos By Danielle Debley

“I really wanted to follow in my Father’s footsteps and be in the Navy,” says William Stewart Miller, III, who adds that the elder Miller was a Chief Naval Petty Office who served in WWI and experienced much action. “But as luck would have it, I was drafted into the Army instead and sent to Ft. Lee in Petersburg, Virginia.”

Miller says he then stationed at Fort Lawton, Seattle where he waited, along with thousands of other soldiers for embarkation to the Pacific Theater. For Miller it would be Japan. And by the time life-long Paxtang resident actually arrived it was then “Occupied Japan.” Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 14, 1945, when the Japanese government notified the Allies that it had accepted the Potsdam Declaration. On the following day, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender on the radio. This date is known as Victory over Japan, or V-J Day, and marked the end of World War II and the beginning of a long road to recovery for a shattered Japan.

As a soldier in the 8th Army led by General Eichelberger whose command was under General MacArthur, Miller’s assignment consisted of being in charge of nine Japanese soldiers charged with cleaning the barracks of which Miller was stationed and taking care of the outside grounds. He says the nine Japanese also cleaned up after meals that were served to G.I.s. Following the collapse of the ruling government and the wholesale destruction of most major cities, virtually everyone was starving.

Miller says these nine Japanese and their families were no different.

“Whatever the G.I.s didn’t eat, I made sure that these men took with them,” says Miller. “And if they wanted the food that was put into the slop barrel they could have that too,” he says. “They made good use of anything not eaten.”

Miller says they even ate the leftover Australian mutton which he was not fond of.

“During the time I was in charge of these nine men, I became good friends with them,” says Miller. “In fact, to this day I still correspond with their boss—Hajime Takata Shita., who is now 94 years old.

Miller fondly recalls that he called Hajime, “Honcho,” because he was the chief in charge of the crew.

“We still exchange Christmas cards to each other,” says Miller. “My daughter Patty actually has visited Hajime and his wife a couple of times.”

Miller says, “This was my job until I left in 1947. I came home from Japan via a troop ship that held over 3,000 soldiers. We followed the Yellow Sea and along the way we picked up about 1,000 soldiers who had fought in Korea. Eventually we landed in San Francisco and then to Pittsburg, California where I was discharged.”

Miller was on inactive duty for six years. During this time, he graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science and enjoyed life outside of the army. He and his fraternity brother took fishing trips to Ontario where they caught many lake trout. Then life changed. Miller was recalled to Fort Meade Army Base in Odenton, Maryland.

“When I arrived Major Fred Shambro asked if I wanted to work here. I said, ‘Yes.’ Then I was told to go get my uniform and my stripes.”

Miller was stationed at Fort Meade for two years. From day one he was charged with compiling rosters that detailed the daily schedules of each draftee and enlistee who had arrived.

“Every day I’d make up rosters that detailed when the soldiers would have to report for clothes, shots, and other activities. Then I got them to the printer to be sent to various areas on the base.”

Miller says that when he was discharged for the second time, he left with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

On May 21, 1955, Miller married Joanne Tiddle. They have been married for 63 years and have three children, twins William and Patricia and son, Douglas. In 1956 he and Joanne bought their house at 444 North 32nd St., Paxtang where they currently live.

Miller says his wife also had a career that helped played a major role with the war effort.

“After graduating from Gettysburg College with a degree in chemistry, Joanne worked at Los Alamos, Mexico on the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima,” says Miller. “Her job was to analyze the uranium.”

After his army service ended, Miller came back home and joined his Father’s company, W.S. Miller & Sons, Inc., a successful general contracting company, taking over the helm when his Father retired in 1967. He also served as President of the Paxtang Borough Council and was acting mayor when Three Mile Island (TMI) had a melt down.

“Calvin Neel, the undertaker, was the Mayor but he was out of town when The Three Mile Island accident occurred on March 28, 1979, in reactor Number 2,” says Miller. “I recommended that everyone leave Paxtang and declared a curfew,” he says. Miller was elected mayor in 1985 and served until 1998.

“I never took a pay check during the time I served as Mayor,” says Miller. “Unlike other mayors who did take their paychecks, I designated my pay for the purchase and care of shade trees and recreation facilities and equipment.”

Miller and his wife also continue to enjoy fishing for trout in Ontario. “We rented a cottage in the early 1960s and enjoyed it so much that we bought it in 1972. The cottage, located at Big Rideau Lake is located in eastern Ontario.” Miller says they leave Paxtang and drive to their cottage four times a year for four weeks each trip. “The trips start in May and continue until October.”

More than 70 years later, at age 92, Miller still lives with the images from his experience in WWII.

“I am honored to have been a small part of a job that needed to be done,” Miller says. “I was just a plain soldier. I was not a hero.”