I could see them scurrying in utter confusion, trying to escape being killed or captured. Others avoided capture by holding grenades to their chests and blowing themselves up. ~CJ Miller
World War II was a time of change for the United States. Men and women gladly supported the defense of their country, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. Considered the greatest generation that ever lived, these citizens gave of themselves physically and mentally, setting a precedent for the future growth of the country.
Approximately 16 million Americans served during World War II. Today, about 1,034,700 veterans of that war are still alive. (National WWII Museum) Most of the survivors are in their 90s.
CJ Miller is a former paratrooper from the Army’s 511th Parachute Infantry. In 1944 he volunteered to serve his country.
In his own words: After a short stint of basic training, I was sent to the Philippines as a replacement for those who had been killed or wounded. It was there that I was trained by Fort Bragg instructors as a paratrooper.
Most paratrooper operations were carried out by 20-man teams who were usually involved in either reconnaissance or the removal of very specific targets in advance of the main forces. When they jumped behind enemy lines, each man carried their parachute, a spare, an 85lb pack which included their food, clothing, weapons and all the munitions they would need to carry out their assignment. The plane flew to an area that was reasonably close to the target, a place devoid of trees.
Jumps occurred just prior to dawn to avoid being seen. The plane slowed to 120 mph and approximately 400 feet above ground. There was hardly time for the chute to open and about 1% of the time it didn’t.
In one instance, our objective was to find and destroy a large artillery emplacement that was knocking out our tanks and preventing an effective assault by our main forces on the enemy position. But because of the very dense ground cover, we were unable to make our usual jump behind enemy lines. Instead, teams were ordered, one group at a time, to find a way through this unfamiliar territory until one or more were successful.
The first team was unlucky. They found themselves trapped between two well hidden machine gun nests and were completely wiped out in crossfire. With this new knowledge, the second team was able to slip around their right flank and through a heavily mined area to the less protected area behind. If we found a few booby traps or other remnants, we knew that the enemy had been there the night before and was likely still in the vicinity. We always tried to avoid a fire fight and whenever we were spotted, quickly slipped away into the surrounding jungle. It seemed like we were playing cat and mouse with the enemy and firing a weapon was the worst thing we could possibly do because it would give away our position immediately.
One night we dug in on a hillside and the Japanese dug in on the opposite side, no more than 100 yards away. When a Japanese officer climbed to the top of the hill to look around and have a smoke, he walked so close to me, I could have reached out and touched his boot. We hardly breathed until he was gone and then, communicating only with hand signals, we slipped away in the opposite direction.
Finally, we were able to get a fix on our target at the top of a low-lying hill. We moved to a protected area nearby where we called in an order for an immediate air strike and readied ourselves for the assault. When the bombs came down, all hell broke loose, with shrapnel flying overhead. As soon as the bombing ceased, we gathered our weapons and used knotted ropes to help us scale the small but steep hillside. We moved in quickly with machine guns, flame throwers and grenades to finish the job. Those weapons brought the enemy out of their tunnels from the side of the mountain. I’ve never seen such a slaughter and I don’t often allow myself to think about what happened after that. Getting into a situation like that was tough, but getting out can be even harder. In this instance, we knew that all of the noise would bring other Japanese upon us at any minute, so we got out of there right away. Because of all the confusion among the Japanese, we were able to execute our planned retreat to a mountain top about a mile away. It was a good choice, because there we were able to watch as the main forces moved in.
The Japanese were completely overwhelmed. I could see them scurrying in utter confusion, trying to escape being killed or captured. Others avoided capture by holding grenades to their chests and blowing themselves up. Seeing this, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What manner of psychological influence and authority are being used to bring these two sides together in mortal conflict?” While in training, soldiers are taught to take orders to preserve the coherence of the group action, but sooner or later, in moments of reflection, they are bound to wonder, “Why are we doing this?” It’s no wonder that some soldiers returning home have problems.
CJ Miller relates very few graphic or horrific stories about his time in the military. He prefers to leave those ugly details in the past. The reason: to keep his mind sane.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was known as combat fatigue at the end of World War II. Mr. Miller has been able to avoid post-traumatic stress by remembering what was interesting during his time in combat. He specifically avoids thinking about the “negatives.” This is quite an important factor as there is a link between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and dementia.
“In a study of older male combat Veterans and ex-POWs of WWII and Korea (median age = 71), the lifetime prevalence of PTSD was 53% and the prevalence of current PTSD was 29%.” ("Mental Disorders and Mental Health Treatment Among U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatients: The Veterans Health Study," American Journal of Psychiatry)
This is higher than the general population and is due to combat and war zone-related exposures. ("Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a community group of former prisoners of war: A normative response to severe trauma." American Journal of Psychiatry) At the end of World War II, there was little help or understanding of PTSD. Today though, counseling and medication have been found to help the mind. Other important helps are an understanding family, rest, a support group, overcoming the feeling of helplessness, and spending time in nature. Even owning a dog can be an emotional benefit for a soldier recovering from PTSD. (National Center for PTSD)
When World War II ended, CJ Miller was in Okinawa. Shortly after atomic bombs were used against Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he was sent up to Tokyo, two weeks prior to General MacArthur’s arrival. He was to ascertain the atmosphere of the Japanese population toward the United States. Miller actually walked into the Dai-Ichi Building and took down the Japanese flag which was over the podium. Entering a police station, he was treated to tea, a sign of respect. Miller also saw Germans, and reported back about the situation on the ground in enemy territory.
Today he relates, “I hate war and I hate guns. War is expensive and wasteful.” Thinking back, he relates that his company once found a Japanese soldier dead on the ground. Inside his uniform was a photo of the man’s wife and children. “War is felt on both sides,” Miller adds.
Returning to the United States in 1947, Miller found life radically changed as the country’s debt had risen beyond the Gross National Product. Mr. Miller earned his way through school and today holds degrees in mathematics, science and electrical engineering. Retired from GE, a part of his work with the company involved teaching statistics to incoming employees. Mr. Miller had his own computers at GE and was given a room to work on them. He learned to write computer programs. Eventually he finished with GE as a researcher, testing operations with statistical analysis. Always ahead of his time, the need for testing was radically reduced during his career with the company. At age 91, CJ Miller is quite clear of mind. He recognizes the state of the economy today as being eerily similar to that just prior to World War II.
CJ Miller is a remaining piece of the greatest generation the United States has ever produced. At age 91, he is yet sacrificing his time to help others in a lasting way. This is the legacy of those who gave all they had.
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