Transcribed by Larry Pearce
After a series of audio and video interviews Army Air Corps veteran Richard Miller (1920-2015) did with various historical organizations in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, such as the World War II Museum in New Orleans and the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County, PA, author Eric B. Greisinger included a few excerpts from those interviews pertaining to Richard’s Second World War service in a book entitled, A World Away but Close to Home. The detailed anthology contains the true stories of dozens of County World War II veterans and provides inspirational reading. With the publisher’s permission I am presenting just one of the author’s accounts of these brave individuals, in context, with our subject Richard’s exact words in italics.
In Parts I and II, Greisinger establishes the pre-war environment in the County and the nation. In Part III he quotes a number of local veterans as to their qualifications and training to be part of the American war effort. He says of Richard Miller:
[He] served on bombers in Europe at one of the many gun stations on a B-17 Flying Fortress. He “was a ball turret [gunner] underneath the plane. They put me in that position because I was small. A little more than 50 percent of it hung outside the plane. There was a ring around and it was in the plane and this rode on top with rollers. It would turn the whole way around. In other words, 360 degrees it has. And elevation was from about zero to a little over halfway up. [I] had over 1,000 rounds of ammunition in that ball, 50 caliber, two guns. There was only one way to get in. That was from the plane down in on a trap door, and once you were in, that trap door was closed and latched and then you could trun. You couldn’t get out when you were in there with the guns out. The guns were straight down when you got in; that way the door was up. Once you were in with the guns down, you couldn’t get out of it.” (p. 26)
The author continues in Part III with Richard’s frightening account of returning to the English airfield from Germany after his first mission:
“We had 57 holes in the plane, plus nobody got hit. That was the main thing. With that many holes, I don’t know why we didn’t get hit. Somebody was with us, I guess. Most of it [the fire] was from the ground. These shells were shot up and they would explode in the air. We had them explode close enough that it shook the plane and you could hear it explode. The rest were far enough away that you could see it, a puff of smoke and fire and you never saw anything fly, because it was too small and flew too fast.We had good air support, which we were thankful for. There [were] about four different fighter planes [that] flew with us. [The] P-51 went the farthest. There were a couple of planes that didn’t have the range. They flew as we were bombing France or the western part of Germany, but we went into deeper territory; the farthest we went was Berlin. We flew in pattern. I think there [were] six in a group, like in a triangle. There were a lot of groups. But we flew in tight formation as a group, and then off to the side above us or below us was another group, and there were probably dozens of groups because there [were] planes everywhere. I had the [bottom of the plane to watch] and [communication] was made by positions, not by name. In other words, the pilot was in control and he would say, ‘Ball gunner, are the bomb bay doors open?’ I was underneath. I could see it. He would ask me, “Where did the bombs hit when they dropped?'” (p.107-8)
Part IV of the book shares the stories of the women who served in various capacities in the war, back home, in the factories, and overseas. Part V is entitled, “Renewed Lives” and summarizes the effects that the war had on local families and individuals. Finally, the book contains several appendices, a helpful glossary, and Veterans’ Honor Roll. Here’s hoping you’ll pick up a copy of Eric Greisinger’s CA World Away but Close to Home to read the other true stories by Somerset County’s heroic veterans. It’s available at the Somerset Historical Center, at some libraries, and online. To read a transcription of our Richard’s complete interview with Carl Kahl, click on “35 Missions over Germany” or have a look at his fascinating “D-Day Journal.” In the future, we hope to have all or some of Richard’s video interview with the World War II Museum, or at least the transcription. We hope you’ll spend a few more minutes reading our other features at this memorial site.
Carl Kahl. Audio interview with Richard O. Miller. 20 March 1999. Somerset, PA
Eric B. Greisinger. A World Away but Close to Home: Somerset County, Pennsylvania & World War II. Carrie A. Blough, ed. Somerset: Historical & Genealogical Society of Somerset County, 2002.