World War II heroics not forgotten

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 19:00
Peters Creek man earns Distinguished Flying Cross after 68 years
George Miller of Peters Creek received the U.S. Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross during a ceremony held April 29 at the Anchorage Veterans Memorial in Anchorage.

After nearly seven decades, George Miller finally received the Distinguished Flying Cross he earned while serving in World War II.

The wait was well worth it for the 87-year-old Peters Creek man.

“It’s beautiful,” Miller said. “I just kick myself for not going after it a long time ago.”

Miller received the medal during a ceremony held April 29 at the Anchorage Veterans Memorial in Anchorage. Miller received the award from Lt. Gen. Stephen Hoog and U.S. Rep. Don Young.

Miller earned the medal for his brave actions that helped his B-24 Liberator land safely after shrapnel broke the bomber’s fuel pump. Miller, a flight engineer based in Italy, and the crew were carrying out a mission over Linz, Austria, on Feb. 24, 1945, when the incident occurred.

“We just released the bombs,” he said. “I don’t think they hit the ground yet when we got hit.”

With gasoline spraying everywhere, Miller pumped as much fuel from the leaking tank as he could.

“It was very dangerous,” Miller said. “One spark and we would have just blown up.

“You’re almost afraid to move because static electricity could set it off,” he said.

Miller was also battling extreme temperatures.

“The temperature was 60 below zero,” he said, which was normal for an altitude of 25,000 feet in February. “It’s always cold up that high.”

With the bomb bay doors open to prevent the build up of gas fumes, Miller worked wearing two pairs of gloves — nylon under leather — on his hands. Once Miller arrived back in the plane’s interior, the crew immediately removed his gasoline-soaked clothes and boots.

“When I came back into the cockpit of the plane, the first thing they did was take all my clothes off and throw them out of the airplane,” he said.

The co-pilot then put Miller’s frozen feet under his armpit, which Miller said saved them from amputation.

“They were not frozen all that long, but they were pretty rough there for a while,” he said.

Unfortunately, the nightmare wasn’t over.

The plane didn’t have enough gas to make it back to base, Miller said, but they managed to land on a fighter strip in Northern Italy. Most of the plane’s weight had to be removed in order for the B-24 to take off from the short strip, Miller said.

Miller, the pilot and co-pilot then flew back to base as the rest of the crew followed by road.

Miller said the crew was fortunate the plane made it past the Alps. With no roads or houses and 60 feet of snow, rescue would have been difficult, he said.

“We didn’t want to go down in the mountains,” Miller said.

Miller’s commanding officer, John Charlton, signed the original order for the Flying Cross, but the officer in charge of the paperwork was injured during a mission before he could forward it.

More than six decades later, Miller found out that Charlton — now 94-years-old — was still alive. He contacted Charlton, and Miller was awarded the medal April 29 — 68 years after helping his plane land safely.

Miller retired after nearly 22 years of service with the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force on Feb. 14, 1964. He moved to Alaska in 1981 to be near family.

The long overdue Distinguished Flying Cross now sits in an open box in Miller’s bedroom where he can view the medal multiple times a day.

“I walk by it quite frequently,” Miller said. “I’m enjoying it very much.”

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