After 70 years in ministry, Truman Miller knows why he survived World War II
The “fog” was still rising off the rubble at Hiroshima in August 1945 when Ozark County native Truman Miller arrived with the American infantry. He and his fellow soldiers had been on a ship, steaming toward an invasion of Japan, when “the captain came on over the loudspeaker” and said a big bomb had been dropped on the city.
“I laughed. You could hear anything in the military. The captain knew we were all skeptical. He said, ‘It’s for sure. The bomb has been dropped.’”
Nothing changed for the soldiers on the troop ship.
“We went right on, full-tilt, full combat ready, and we hit the harbor at Osaka,” Truman said. “And there wasn’t a shot fired. There wasn’t nobody in sight. We all just waded through the water and up to the land. Pretty soon, I noticed women peeking out from around the bushes, looking at us. There wasn’t a man anywhere, just the women. Then, after a while, they came out and looked at us.”
The soldiers moved on to Hiroshima a short distance away. “The stench – I never smelled anything like that stench,” he said. “It was the most sickening and terriblest thing. And white ashes everywhere.”
The surprising thing was that “the Japanese people loved us. They did,” Truman said. “The rulers were the ones that had the war. The main Japanese people didn’t want war, and they were kind to us.”
Truman was 20 when he walked through the ashes of Hiroshima about a week after the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated there. He and his unit would spend a year in Japan as part of the army of occupation. “Actually, it was real pleasant,” he said. “The people were kind and industrious. They made all kinds of clothes and jackets and sold to us.”
He still has the souvenirs he brought home with him – “an old meatball flag” (the Japanese rising sun banner), a samurai sword and a “lady’s suicide knife.” The weapon is a small knife encased in wood. “Every lady had one of them to take their own life,” he said. “That’s what the emperor had told them to do: ‘If we lose the war, take your own life.’”
‘My life was spared for that purpose’
Truman grew up in the Bakersfield area, attending the one-room Hawkins Ridge school and graduating from Bakersfield High School in 1942. America had joined the war by then. “The first year after I became 18, my dad got me deferred a year to work on the farm, but I didn’t like that. I told him, ‘I can’t stand this. All my buddies is gone. I’m going to volunteer.’ He said, ‘OK, if that’s what you want.’”
By 1944, he had enlisted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and later completed basic training in Tyler, Texas. His next posting was infantry training in Baltimore, Maryland. “I was in the anti-tanks, where you learn to shoot at tanks,” he said. “But I was pulled out of my group. The old sergeant asked if anybody could type, and I had taken typing in high school. So I stayed there two or three months, typing up the business papers and stuff, while my outfit went on over to Germany and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I didn’t like that. I didn’t feel right, staying behind. But I’ll tell you what I think now: God had a plan for me. A while later, He called me into the ministry. And now I’ve been in ministry 70 years. I think my life was spared for that purpose.”
He was pulled out of his unit again and sent across America by train to board a ship out of Seattle, bound for Hawaii. “We were going to train for hand-to-hand combat. They were getting us ready to go hit Japan,” he said.
‘I was scared’
From Hawaii, he and his comrades were sent to Saipan “to get a little combat” under their belts before invading Japan. But when they arrived on Saipan, other American troops had already taken the island. ... “They put us back on the ship and sent us go invade Japan,” he said.
His time aboard ship on the Pacific was the only time during his war experience when he remembers being scared.
“A Japanese submarine got after us,” he said. “It was tracking us, and the order came down, ‘All men in their bunks.’ Nobody was supposed to be up walking around in case the ship was hit. The ship had different compartments that were water-tight, so if one compartment was hit, it could be sealed off so it wouldn’t kill all the rest of the men. There were 10 to 15 of us in a compartment on bunks that were two high. I was on the upper bunk, and it was against the hull of the ship. I lay there thinking, ‘If a torpedo hits us and it don’t kill me, I’ll wait until the compartment fills with water then I’ll swim out. I was afraid, I was. I was scared,” he said.
Finally, though, the Americans “outran the sub,” he said.
He spent a year in Japan and then came back to the States to be discharged from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in 1946. Before heading home to Bakersfield, he spent some time with relatives in Salina, Kansas. “I was a pretty wild guy, and I didn’t want to come home until I’d had some fun,” he said. “I had some wild oats to sow.”
By April 1947, he was back home and courting Roxie Kesner, a girl he’d met at church before the war. Roxie was in her senior year of high school, but Truman coaxed her into dropping out and getting married a few weeks before graduation. “She’s complained about that ever since,” Truman said, laughing. Last April they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
While he was happily married, Truman suffered the same malady thousands of other warriors have known after coming come from war. “Those boys who come out of Vietnam and had PTSD, I went through that. I know exactly what that feels like. In the Army, you obey your sergeant or your commander, and everything is furnished. Everything is taken care of. When you get out, boom! You’ve got to buy everything you need, and you don’t have any money. Everybody was coming out of the service, and you couldn’t hardly get a job. It’s hard to fit back into civilian life,” he said.
He “went back to farming” – at first with his dad and then on his own. “But all I had was a team of horses, and you couldn’t make any money to save your life. So I sold the horses and bought a little old tractor. I did some custom tractor work – plowing fields, baling hay.”
When a severe drought in 1952 made farming nearly impossible, the family moved to Tennessee, where Truman worked in an aircraft factory, building wings for B-17 bombers. Then they moved to Dallas, where he worked in another aircraft factory for two more years. “I made enough money to pay off my debts on the farm, and you bet, that felt good.”
‘Just a Christian’
They came back home, and then, in the 1960s, Truman went to St. Louis to