William E. Miller in his original Navy uniform, at his home filled with the accolades and
mementos he collected during his service in World War II.
November 2015: In honor of Veterans Day, we are proud to share the story of a local veteran, Mr. William E. Miller (also known as Bill). At 97 years old, Bill’s life is brimming with personal experiences rooted in major historical events of our country.
In 1936, after graduating from Central High School in Tulsa, Bill Miller joined the United States Navy at the age of 18. He boarded a World War I destroyer ship of the Asiatic Fleet, which protected the Philippine Islands prior to World War II.
His first ship, the USS Waters (DD-115), had been fitted with sonar equipment and worked in cooperation with the submarine base. When Amelia Earhart’s plane mysteriously disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937, the USS Waters was one of the ships commissioned to find her. “We searched for nearly a year,” says Bill. To this day, he continues to wonder what happened to Earhart on her final flight.
After serving his country for four years, Bill returned to the United States in 1940 and began working for an electric company. He returned to the Navy that same year, when the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States was imposed. “We went to Norfolk, Virginia, and all retirees who had been to sea were sent to man the ships,” says Bill.
Bill’s life was forever altered on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and thus led to the United States’ entry into World War II. He was stationed in Reykjavik, Iceland at the time, and returned to the States a month later. From there Bill spent 18 months in the Solomon Islands. In 1944, he returned to board a new ship, the USS Hamlin (AV-15).
While aboard the Hamlin, the crew first traveled to Pearl Harbor, where they loaded aviation gasoline and supplies. The ship was later sent to Iwo Jima to provide a base from which fighter aircraft could protect B-29s in bombing missions over Japan. The Hamlin arrived two days after the historic Battle of Iwo Jima, and along with two other ships established a floating seaplane base for search and rescue missions. Their work was performed amid nearly constant air attack by Japanese suicide planes, and, though many ships in the anchorage were damaged by repeated attacks, the USS Hamlin fought off all attacks without injury. During this time, Bill was designated a Navy warrant officer.
When the war finally ended in 1945, Bill was able to return home to Tulsa after nearly a decade spent traveling around the world. He began working for a phone company for $25 a week, and in six years, he was running the head office. He retired as a second line manager after 34 years with the company.
Bill spent 70 years as a Mason and 30+ years with Shriners International. He has survived two wives and three children. At 97, he continues to live independently in his own home in Tulsa, with help from Candi, who assists him three times a week. Candi loves to hear Bill’s life story when she visits. “He is an amazing person and has lived through so much. I’m thrilled to hear his experiences.”
See more about 97 and Going Strong: