Veteran Profile: Maurice Miller
Madison’s Miller recalls life in the
Marine Corp during WWII
He witnessed the first raising of U.S. flag over Iwo Jima
HANOVER, Ind. (November 2015) – Time and age have a way of shifting one’s perspective. What emerges over time often is quite unexpected. Perhaps no one knows that lesson better than Maurice Miller, 89, now of Hanover.
During some of the darkest days of World War II, Miller enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the tender age of 17. The military would take “any warm body” back then, according to Miller. “You could enlist at 17 with your parents’ signature.”
It took a lot of talking to convince his parents to let another son go to battle. “Everybody was in the service,” he said. “Everybody did it.”
His parents argued that he was too young. In January 1944, Miller enlisted, and by February 1945, he began fighting with the 28th Regiment at Iwo Jima. It was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. He witnessed the first raising of the U.S. flag over Mt. Suribachi, an act that signaled its capture after days of fighting.
The lessons of changing perspective hit home for Miller quite suddenly in 1996. His oldest grandson, Jason Kitka, 18, wanted to be a Marine. “I looked at him and thought, ‘He’s nothing but a kid,’ and then remembered that when I was his age, I was on Iwo Jima. I never really realized it until then.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. In some respects, memories of that battle still are fresh in Miller’s mind. He likes to share the funny stories about the war with his grandchildren but nothing about how bad it was. Besides, the trauma, the details of this bloodiest of battles, had faded quickly from his mind.
Photo by Alice Jane Smith
Maurice Miller poses with a photo of himself with his late wife, Marianne, who died in July.
“If something bad happened, I put it out of my mind and forgot it because it doesn’t do you any good,” he said, adding “I never thought I’d live this long!”
“These kids, I’m so proud of them,” Miller said of his children and grandchildren. Jason still serves with the Marine communications division at Ft. Meade. Josh Kitka is “a computer guru” with Liberty Mutual Insurance, and his brother Evan, is finishing college but also is assistant manager of a bank branch. Both are former Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His granddaughters are Jennifer Marshall, a financial analyzer with two advanced degrees, and Sarah Roush, an elementary school teacher.
Miller has a keen sense of humor, a positive outlook on life and a clear sense of drive. An articulate, thoughtful, polite and gracious man, he enjoys listening to piano music throughout the day. Dressed in a red-checked shirt, black slacks and red suspenders, he presents a cheerful appearance. He uses a machine that enlarges printed material to help him read, despite his macular degeneration. In July, he lost his beloved wife of 67 years, Marianne. Earlier, they had moved to a pleasant, sunny, two-room assisted living apartment at the Hanover Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. Now he deals with his own health problems, Stage 4 cancer, but continues to be as independent as possible.
His daughter, Jan Anderson, said her father walks and exercises daily to keep up his strength. She describes her father as a “modest” man but one who is thrilled that so many men in his family are Marines. He is a skilled woodworker, a gift inherited from his father.
Miller has an “entrepreneurial, competitive spirit” that his daughter admires. A public accountant with a business degree, he opened his own accounting business in South Bend, Ind. When that didn’t work out, he moved to Cincinnati and tried again. His business succeeded, and the Millers lived in Cincinnati for 40 years. Miller himself is proud of his accomplishment as an Enrolled Agent in Cincinnati. He helped start the Ohio Society of Enrolled Agents.
He said he felt pleased that he passed the rigorous three-day Internal Revenue Service exam for Enrolled Agents on his first attempt. In college, Miller planned to do other kinds of accounting, and he disliked taxes. To his surprise, he came to love income tax work. “I was in seventh heaven if someone came to me with a tax problem.”
A native of Elkhart, Ind., Miller met Marianne at the Elkhart Business College. They moved to Pendleton, Indiana-polis, South Bend, and then to Cincinnati. On retirement in 1991, the couple moved to Madison to be near their daughter. Their second daughter, Maryse Sagewynd, lives in East Sound, Wash.
Miller is quick to point out that he did not get a Purple Heart in World War II. “I was on the front line all the time, and no, I did not get a Purple Heart because when I saw a bullet coming with my name on it, I ducked.”
He landed in the Southern Sector of Iwo Jima, about 30 minutes after the initial landing, and this was near Mt. Suribachi. After four days of intense fighting, troops were able to take Mt. Suribachi. To signal its taking, they raised a small American flag.
“I saw the first flag go up, and that was a big deal,” Miller said. “The whole company was taking pictures. It was a small flag that some guy had carried up. The Colonel (Chandler Johnson) said it was not big enough, so he got someone to go get a ship’s flag.”
The second raising of the larger U.S. flag by five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy combat corpsman was photographed by Joe Rosenthal. This widely published photograph soon became iconic of the Battle of Iwo Jima, the Pacific War, and the Marine Corps itself. Both flag raisings took place on the fifth day of the 35-day battle.
Miller later fought in the northern portion of Iwo Jima, which he described as rugged, difficult terrain that smelled of sulphur because of the volcanic ash. He survived several harrowing experiences in which his dungaree jacket was “all torn up,” but he was left without a scratch. Someone with the U.S. Coast Guard later gave him a jacket to replace his own. A grenade landed near him. Had it not been a “concussion” type grenade, he would not have survived. A bullet went through his helmet.
“Somebody was looking after me,” he said. “Crazy things happened right toward the end.”
Scott Crawford, a Marine veteran who now manages the American Legion Post 9 in Madison, visits Miller occasionally. These days, it is “extremely rare” to find an Iwo Jima veteran because of the high casualty rate at the battle and the age of the veterans, according to Crawford. “It was like the Battle of Little Big Horn with Custer, it was that bloody and brutal,” he said. “They had to hit the beaches, and there was no backing out.”
In all, Miller served 40 months in the military, and he served inactive reserves for 43 months. In June 1950, he was called back to serve in Korea, and he was sent to Camp LeJeune, N.C., where he managed to wangle a job as Quarter Master by convincing the Marine Corps that is what he did earlier. Records to verify that were not available.
A folded flag and framed certificate hang in Miller’s apartment, both thanks to his grandson, Jason, who arranged for the flag to be flown over Camp Leatherneck, amid the battlefields of Afghanistan during decisive operations against enemy forces in Helmand Province on Feb. 29, 2011. Capt. Kitka dedicated this in honor of his grandfather.
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