WWII Veteran Photographic Series - Army Veteran - Pvt. Charles E. Miller
It's been a little bit since my last WWII Photographic Series session. Recently I was honored to get to sit down for a little bit and interview this amazing man. His story was really powerful, from getting paralyzed in the War, to learning to walk again, and making numerous inventions to help other people with disabilities. He worked on wheelchair adaptions, sewing machine switches, an invalid lifter for a quadriplegic veteran, and even a hand control for cars. That's just part of what this great man accomplished after his own paralysis. I hope that you enjoy hearing his words as much I have.
"What's your name?"
"Charles E. Miller. Charles Eugene Miller."
"What branch of service did your serve in?"
"I was in the Army but I served all my time in the Navy. I was in heavy demolition. Other than that I can't tell you nothing else. General Whitaker took me in the office and discharged me, said I'm gonna take your rank all the way from you, and discharge you as a private. Don't ever say anything about this. If you do, there's some Japanese lawyer waiting to jump on you. So it's never been mentioned. It's a little hard to keep it to yourself, but that's the way it is."
"How were you injured?"
"It was my first mission in the South Pacific. It was island number, well I forgot the number of it. We didn't go by names, we went by numbers. We were going in on the heaviest boat, the ones where the front falls out. We hit a mine. 250lb of Japanese powder. It's much stronger than our powder, I don't know what they do to it, but it's much stronger than our stuff. I remember going up, but I don't remember coming down. Whatever hit me, hit me in mid air. They picked me up and took me back to the ship. When they got me on the ship, they thought that I was a colored man. I was a solid blood blister. I felt it hit the bottom of the boat. I thought I had better jump. It was certain suicide. I was standing right over the top of it. As far as I know, there was two others still alive"
"From your landing craft?"
"Yeah. That's the way it goes. Those things do happen."
"So you were injured on your very first mission?"
"Yeah, but I was over there for a long time before then."
"Were you drafted or did you enlist?"
"I was drafted. That's why I say that Mr. Roosevelt sent me an invitation. I came out of the service with a 50% disability. I stayed out for 8 or 9 weeks and then I went back to work as a crane operator. I started having convulsions. Epileptic convulsions. I went and had one in the hospital and they grabbed on it. But I think it came out pretty good.
"Where did you go to basic?"
"I took my basic in Camp Blanding in Florida. They transferred us to, I forgot the name of it. But me and some other boys were on a truck to Fort Riley, Kansas. A couple MP's picked us up. They asked if he were discharged, or AWOL or I forgot the name of it. About one o'clock in the morning they came and woke me up, asked me for my name and serial number. Then put me in a 41 Chevrolet and took me to demoltion school. They taught me a lot. *looking around his kitchen* You know, there's a lot of explosives in here if you know how to mix it. Oats is one of them. I had oats for breakfast. I'm liable to blow up. There's certain things I can remember, and certain things I don't. "
"Being in demolition, and with the Navy, were you part of underwater demoiltion?"
"No, we were surface demolition."
"How long were you in the South Pacific before your injury?"
"I was there a couple of months. I was just a young kid."
"What years were you over there?"
"Do you remember very much about when Pearl Harbor happened?"
"Oh, I remember it happening. But nothing I could do about it."
"Oh no, I know you weren't in the service then, I was just curious as to if you remembered your thoughts on it when you heard it over the news that the Japanese had attacked."
"Oh yeah, everybody wanted to go fight then. But if you get too many people over there at once, it's trouble. The Japanese were fighting a religious thing. They thought that if they got killed in battle, they'd go to a better land. They was hard to kill. He wouldn't surrender. You had to kill him. But we went in with heavy explosives and blew up their barracks and all that stuff. But I definitely wouldn't want to live it again. I'm 93 now and I'm hanging on. "
"How old were you when you were in the Pacific?"
"19. I was just a kid. I was already married though. I got married when I was 16 and she was six to eight years older than I was. I was working for a construction company. I think she married my time book more than anything else. But she was good to me. I couldn't have made it without her."
"So Lacy told me that you were paralyzed. Was that in the explosion?"
"But they only gave you 50% disability despite being paralyzed from the waist down?"
"Yeah, they didn't give me much. When I got out of the service, and after I got home, I started having convulsions more often. And Bill King of the Newsfree Press, he was a church member of mine. He got a Tennessee Senator, I forgot his name. There's a lot of things I should remember but I don't. "
"So you were able to teach yourself to walk again?
"Yeah, on braces. I was with Wheeland Factory for thirty years and I walked on braces every day. They were 22lbs that I had to drag around. So I worked on developing something that would be a little lighter. "
Mr. Miller's granddaughter, Lacy mentioned " He actually won the Veteran Handicapped Achievement award for his work on different inventions for disabled veterans."
"That's when we started Disabled Enterprises, for handicapped people. We didn't hire nothing but the handicapped. We had one bus driver. He wasn't all there, but he was there just enough to get by. He drove the bus for us. We made pallets for several different companies here in Chattanooga. We done all right.
I ended up getting into the antique car field. I had thirteen at one time. They were everywhere. I still have a Model A and a '55 Thunderbird. I gave them to my son. He's the only one that's interested in them. You gotta be interested in something to be that close to it. The oldest car that I ever had was a 1907 Sears. It was sold by Sears Roebuck. The mail carriers used it in the South. It had wheels small enough to where they could get through ruts and not get too much mud. "
"Which antique car was your favorite that you've owned?"
"I guess the Sears. I fixed it up and got it to running good. I'd go in parades and it would run just as fast the parade. I'd get up in the front, just behind the horses. When I got done there was green sidewalks from the horses. "
"We don't have parades like we used too. I remember when I was a kid going downtown the the Armed Forces/Veteran parades and they were such a big deal. People were everywhere. I remember seeing Desmond T. Doss being honored a couple of times and we just don't have that anymore."
"Every now and then you see a platoon march, but that's about it. They don't put any money into it. The people have lost all of their pride. "
I want to thank you for taking the time to read just a glimmer of Pvt. Miller's story. I want to give a really big thank you to his granddaughter, Lacy Stoglin, who set up this session. If anyone has any WWII, Korean, or Vietnam Veterans in their family, please reach out to me. Sadly, I can't travel all over the country, but anyone that I can meet locally or on trips, I would love to sit down and do a portrait session and listen to their story. This entire set was shot using Kodak Tri X film.