Battle of Okinawa Veteran Bob Miller

A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Pennsylvania to visit my family and celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday. If time and schedules allowed it, I thought that it would also be a great opportunity to meet and photograph WWII veterans who live in my hometown. Asking around on Facebook, I was given two names of veterans who I should reach out to. One of those was Bob Miller who lives right up the street from where I grew up.

Growing up on a farm, Bob Miller dropped out of high school during his junior year and was drafted by the Marines at age 17. Standing at 5’8” and weighing only 105 pounds, he was pretty small compared to his fellow Marines. He was often picked on for his size and the fact that he grew up on a farm without electricity. His upbringing and lifestyle though is what made him a great Marine. He developed rifle skills early in life as he hunted during his childhood. That mixed with always being surrounded by nature and wilderness gave him a head start in the Marines.

As a corporal in the 1st Marine Division, Miller was part of the invasion during the Battle of Okinawa. Also known as the Typhoon of Steel, the battle lasted for 82 days from April 1 to June 22, 1945. After the U.S. had captured and controlled two airports on the island, Miller became a member of a 40mm gun crew that protected the airports and surrounding locations from enemy aircraft. Operated by four men, two who sighted in targets, a trigger-man, and one handing clips of ammunition to the trigger-man, Miller worked as the trigger-man. “I was pretty lucky. I got on a 40mm gun, and that was pretty good. I was the trigger-man. That was my job.”

Miller along with two brothers who served in the U.S. Army eventually made it back home to Pennsylvania. When looking back on the war, Miller said, “I think it made you appreciate life a little better. It wasn’t just you. It was everybody. Everybody was in the same situation.”

Before photographing him, his family got out his old Marine jacket, hat, medals, and even his helmet he wore in the war. Unable to get the jacket on, he was able to sling it over his shoulder while wearing his hat. That particular shot of him is perhaps my favorite of this project thus far. His soft facial expression matches his gentle voice and character so well.

It was so nice sitting with Mr. Miller outside on his back patio and talking with him. These veterans’ stories are always so inspiring. Especially when the story starts with someone at 17 years old.

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