Valor and humility

Written by Dick Mason, The Observer November 18, 2013 09:11 am

A piece of shrapnel rudely welcomed Bryce “Doc’’ Miller to World War II seven decades ago.  The sharp piece of metal never touched Miller but today he still feels its impact. (DICK MASON/The Observer)
A piece of shrapnel rudely welcomed Bryce “Doc’’ Miller to World War II seven decades ago. The sharp piece of metal never touched Miller but today he still feels its impact. (DICK MASON/The Observer)
 

Doc Miller discusses bombing missions over Europe during WWII

A piece of shrapnel rudely welcomed Bryce “Doc’’ Miller to World War II seven decades ago.

The sharp piece of metal never touched Miller but today he still feels its impact.

It was late 1943 and Miller, now a Union resident, was serving as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 on his first bombing mission for the U.S. Army Air Corps. The flight over Europe was going well at 15,000 feet until a piece of shrapnel from German anti-aircraft fire cut through the B-17 Miller was in and sliced through the electrical wire connected to the heating coil in his socks. 

The consequences proved to be serious. The heated socks were of vital importance to Miller since the temperature outside his unheated plane was 68 degrees below zero.

“That’s pretty chilly. Both of my feet froze,” Miller said during a presentation Sunday afternoon at the High Valley VFW Post 4060 hall in Union.

Miller sustained very serious frostbite in both his feet during his first bombing mission. 

“Doctors talked about amputating my left foot,” Miller said.

Fortunately, the foot was saved but today both of Miller’s feet still bother him periodically, including during Sunday’s talk when Miller could not wear shoes because his feet were not doing well. 

Miller was sidelined just two weeks after his feet were frozen and he went on to serve as a ball turret gunner on another 29 bombing missions over areas of Europe controlled by Germany.

Miller’s speech came during a program put on at the request of Union High School students. Miller had spoken briefly at a Memorial Day program in May at UHS and students were so impressed with what he said, they asked him to give a more extensive talk, said UHS English teacher Vivian Matthews.

Miller’s speech touched on some of his hair-raising moments during his next 29 flights, including how a falling bomb passed through the wing of his plane.

“I looked out and saw pieces of our plane in the air,” Miller said. “I asked, ‘What’s going on?’” 

The damaged B-17 was forced to make an emergency landing. Still, Miller spoke of the incident without a sense of drama, noting that B-17s were legendary for their ability to withstand hits. 

“It was minor thing (for a B-17),” Miller said. “B-17s were called ‘Flying Fortresses.’”

The missions Miller was a part of targeted bridges, railroad depots, supply depots, ships at sea and ball bearing plants. One ball bearing plant Miller’s crew bombed drew particularly intense anti-aircraft fire from Germans.

“There was red and yellow smoke. It was thick enough that I believe I could have walked on it,” he said.

Following his 30 bombing missions, Miller was assigned to help with the Allied invasion of Normandy, France. He worked in an observation plane during the invasion that took place on June 6, 1944.

Miller speaks in awestruck tones when he discusses what he saw that day.

“I looked out and counted 2,000 planes in the sky,’’ he said. “It overwhelmed me, it still does. I don’t see how they got that many planes in the sky at one time.’’