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WW II veteran awarded Hall of Honor during ceremony at Stillwater History Museum

Stillwater NewsPress - 5/3/2024

May 2—When Ben Miller's wooden, flimsy paraglider landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, his nerves were on edge.

It was D-Day, and Miller, a 19-year-old WWII medic with the 82nd Airborne Division, was part of the invasion of German-controlled France.

"I was scared," Miller admitted, when he spoke with the News Press.

The Germans had planted telephone poles every 10 feet because they expected the paragliders, so when Miller's paraglider landed, the pilot had to carefully maneuver the glider between poles — making for a harrowing landing experience.

Although they lost the wings, the body of the glider remained intact to serve another day.

After the landing, Miller's nerves dissipated.

"After we were able to get out of the plane in one piece, I lost my fear after that because we had too many things to do," Miller said. "Being scared wouldn't have helped the situation."

Miller, 99, was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Heritage Foundation on April 24 at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar, where he was presented with a Hall of Honor citation and a medal with a maroon ribbon lanyard.

Guests in the auditorium listened carefully as Miller recalled his time in France and scenes from the battlefield.

After enlisting, Miller was sent immediately to England for paraglider training, but his job as a medic proved challenging. He was assigned to a division that drove around in a jeep, searching for injured soldiers and helping to move them away from the battlefield to staging areas.

"There wasn't too much training," Miller said. "We just had to learn by experience."

His first day in the field, he helped patch up soldiers who had parachuted in and landed in trees, breaking legs and arms.

His division remained about two and a half weeks in the area until a temporary hospital could be set up. Then they were sent to Nazi-occupied Holland.

During WWII, medics couldn't carry a weapon, and several times Miller had a few narrow escapes.

"There were times I wish I had one," Miller said.

During the Battle of the Bulge, his jeep topped a hill right in front of a German tanker. The German commander came up out of the tank and yelled at the men to get out of the way, giving Miller's group a chance to escape.

"I don't know who that commander was, but I thank him to this day," Miller said.

Miller shared memories of the winter during the Battle of the Bulge, of delivering concentration camp prisoners and of the time during the liberation of one German town when the U.S. Army came upon a barn filled with bodies — some still alive, some dead. Miller joined the others in burying 169 people in the town square.

He recalled bridges they blew up to stop the Germans advance, but he also recalled the small moments that made him chuckle — such as the chocolate bars the soldiers traded with the French in exchange for wine.

Miller's granddaughter, Kara Ritchie, said her grandfather moved to Stillwater from upstate New York, which was a big change for him.

She recorded the ceremony, something she does each time her grandfather shares his memories, in case he says something she's not heard yet.

"He didn't talk about things like this for the longest time," Ritchie said. "... It's really opened my eyes and ... hearing it and knowing he experienced that is incredible, and it means a lot more."

Miller will join 50 other WW II veterans in June with the Best Defense Foundation to visit Normandy for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

It will be the first time he's crossed the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane.

OPTIONAL CUT

The Oklahoma Military Heritage Foundation is committed to recognizing as many military members as possible. Stillwater's OMHF chapter was named the "Lt. Gen. Price Hays Chapter of Payne County."

Lt. Hays was commissioned from Oklahoma A&M College in 1960. He was an artillery officer in WW I and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service. In WW II, he served with the 10th Mountain Division, training soldiers to ski mountain passes — the first division of its kind — and served in Italy.

The foundation's Stillwater ambassador, retired Maj. Gen. Douglas Dollar, recognized the museum as an official location for future ceremonies celebrating and honoring Stillwater's veterans.

The museum officially partnered with OMHF to present the Hall of Honor awards.

The Military Hall of Fame honors 12 new members per year, with the goal to honor more Oklahomans who served. The foundation is celebrating its 25th year, but the Hall of Honor was established in 2023 to expand the impact of the Foundation and to honor veterans.

Once a military member is inducted into the Hall of Honor, they have a chance to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Community chapters are developed to administer the programs locally. The chapters identify and nominate honorees who will receive the Hall of Honor recognition, select honorees annually and coordinate presentations.

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(c)2024 the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.)

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