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Kent Francis Miller

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Kent Francis Miller
1922-1943

"A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers."

President John F. Kennedy

Flight Officer Kent Francis Miller was born on October 17, 1922, in New Martinsville, Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Elmer E. and Louise Miller. Elmer E. Miller was a glassworker who worked at the New Martinsville Glass Company. Louise Miller died in 1935, when Kent was 13 years old. Elmer Miller married again to Frances Wickham in 1937. Kent had two younger siblings: a brother, Eugene, and a sister, Janet.

According to U.S. Army World War II Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Kent F. Miller enlisted in the army after completing high school. He enlisted at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, on January 6, 1939—well before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II—and was later assigned to the newly-formed Army Air Corps.

A little more than a month after he enlisted, Kent F. Miller married Helen P. Rockwell on February 10, 1939. At the time of his marriage, Kent stated in the marriage register that he was 18, but based on his birth date, it appears that he was not quite 17.

Kent served as a private in the Panama Canal Department, where he would have protected the Panama Canal and possibly participated in air patrols. After working his way up through the ranks, Kent, now a flight officer, was transferred to the 66th Bomber Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group. The 44th Bombardment Group, which was referred to as “The Flying Eightballs” and also encompassed the 67th, 68th, and 506th Bomber Squadrons, was based in Shipdham, Norfolk, United Kingdom, and flew B-24 Liberators in long-range missions. Flight Officer Miller’s plane was nicknamed “Big Banner.” The 44th Bombardment Group received two Distinguished Unit citations, in late spring and early fall of 1943. In the summer of 1943, the unit was transferred to Benina Main in Libya and provided support for the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy. The unit also raided oil refineries in Romania and a Messerschmitt factory in Austria before returning to Europe in fall of 1943. After October 1943, the 44th Bombardment Group flew long-range strategic bombing missions over occupied Europe. During this time, Miller was awarded an Air Medal and a Purple Heart. However, these daylight missions were particularly dangerous and exposed bomber crews to anti-aircraft fire and enemy aircraft. A total of 153 planes were lost in these missions, including Flight Officer Miller’s plane. (Source: American Air Museum in Britain, “44th Bomb Group: The Flying Eightballs,” Web, accessed 19 May 2015.)

Flight Officer Miller’s plane went down on December 22, 1943. Miller’s copilot, Second Lieutenant Charles E. Taylor, was the only survivor. He gave an account of the events leading up to the crash in the 44th Bomb Group Roll of Honor and Casualties. Miller’s crew consisted of Charles Taylor, Frank Passavant, Donald Shaffer, Edward Birge, James Childers, Stanley Pilch, John Larson, Gerald McCord, and William Sheehan. Miller was flying his plane back to England from bombing Muenster, Germany. The weather was poor, with several thunderstorms and heavy clouds, and Miller’s plane had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. As such, Big Banner started losing altitude and lagging behind the other planes. Miller gave the order to bail out, but when he realized that they were over water, he changed the order to ditching. The plane hit the water and was immediately submerged. Miller is thought to have been stunned by the impact and trapped in the plane. Second Lieutenant Taylor got out of the plane and was a German prisoner of war until the end of the war. (Source: Will Lundy, 8th Air Force, 44th Bomb Group Roll of Honor and Casualties, 2005, Web, accessed 19 May 2015.) Miller was declared missing in action on December 22, 1943, and was declared dead a year later, which was the custom of the army at the time.

Flight Officer Miller was originally listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands, where his name is marked with a rosette, indicating he is no longer missing. In 1975, a large area of Zuyderzee was drained by the Royal Dutch Air Force, revealing Miller’s plane as well as the body of Miller and the rest of his crew. Miller’s remains were then brought back to West Virginia and buried in Greenlawn Memorial Park in New Martinsville, Wetzel County, West Virginia.
Netherlands American Cemetery

Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Article prepared by Ananya Reddy, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015

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Kent Francis Miller

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