Max Miller still treasures wartime friends
If Max Miller isn’t swinging a club on the greens of the Park City Golf Course, there is a good chance he is somewhere in the country attending a reunion of U.S. Army Air Corps sergeant pilots, an elite group of flyers from World War II.
In Park City, many of Miller’s closest friends and golfing partners are veterans and his home office is a mini museum of wartime artifacts.
"Certainly it was one of the major happenings in history, in the world and especially in this country. It was a major historical event, probably the biggest since the Civil War," he says.
Miller enlisted in the Air Corps before the United States was drawn into the war in hopes of gaining skills for a career as an airplane mechanic. He asked to be stationed in the Philippines or Hawaii and that decision soon put him in the heart of the fiercely contested Pacific Theater.
The day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Miller was on a boat in San Juan harbor in Puerto Rico heading for flight school. The boat ended up sitting in the darkened harbor overnight while the U.S. military decided how to respond. Overnight the landscape of the war changed and Miller was in the thick of it.
Miller and his newly minted colleagues, dubbed Flying Sergeants, were sent to New Guinea where they were assigned to transport troops and supplies to hold the line against Japan.
"Immediately we were sent into combat flying," says Miller, who clearly remembers the challenging terrain. "We had the Japanese coming up Wau Valley and their intention was to take over Port Moresby, one of the last holdouts in New Guinea Right away one of our crew was killed."
Miller’s unit flew 10 to 12 hours a day and bunked on the sharp coral right alongside the runway. They rarely slept through the night, though, as Japanese fighters flew overhead. Miller remembers that two or three times a night sirens would send them scurrying into trenches to avoid the bombs. One night, Miller laughs, his bunkmate was too tired to get out of his sleeping bag. Miller remembers trying to rouse him and then giving up. "I said ‘OK have it your way’ and I will always remember a big flash of light when the first bomb hit and here comes Bob without his shoes. It took him forever to get back to the tent."
During the darkest days of the war, Miller admits, "there was a lack of optimism at times but I don’t think we analyzed it much. We just got up and did our jobs."
Miller was on leave visiting his wife Dorothy when the war ended. "We were on our way back to Scott Field and I turned on the radio and heard the big excitement." Soon afterwards he was discharged with the rank of Captain and a lapel full of medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
His service to the country wasn’t over though. In 1950 Miller says he received a long telegram calling him back to active duty during the Korean War and he spent three more years in the Air Force.
Civilian life and a job with Ford Motor Company eventually landed Miller in Utah. Homebase, now, is a house he built in Park City along the fairway and last week he packed up some of his memorabilia to share at another reunion with his dwindling but enthusiastic fellow veterans.
Branch: U.S. Air Force
Unit: 317th Troop Carrier Group
Accomplishments: 115 combat missions
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross
Return to service: 1950-1953 to serve in the Korean War
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.