Raymond Miller stood at attention, his right hand at his brow in salute.
He leaned on a cane but was otherwise able to stand on his own. Wearing a well-worn leather bomber jacket, with his name on the breast and a pair of pilots’ wings just above it, he listened as the Honor Guard played the Star Spangled Banner underneath the flags at Proctor Park.
Miller had been invited to take part in the ceremony as a veteran of World War II. The concept of a monument to all veterans was a cause he needed to support.
“It’s very significant that we recognize those people who gave their lives to protect our freedom,” he said.
Miller often speaks about his experience in World War II to schools, churches and civic organizations throughout Indiana. He said he feels it’s his duty to share what service in World War II entailed, and specifically to share with schoolchildren how vital education can be.
“In my youth, I served God and country. Now, in my old age, I get to do that again,” he said.
He had met Joseph Proctor’s brother, Eddie, at one of his presentations. Eddie Proctor told him about the efforts at Proctor Park, and he wanted to help. While attending a fundraiser for the park at Otte Golf in Greenwood, he met Maribeth Alspach, clerk-treasurer of New Whiteland, who told him more about the veterans’ memorial park.
Miller was immediately in favor. He purchased his own engraved brick at the park’s Walk of Freedom, and has been part of the dedication and subsequent ceremonies at the park.
“We remember Joey and his family with this park. It’s been my privilege to be part of this,” Miller said.
Miller was in his second year at Purdue University when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. That weekend, he happened to be home in Marion and was playing basketball with his brother at the local armory when the bombing started.
“Like a lot of young people, the world was falling apart, and I didn’t have a care in the world,” he said.
When he learned about the attack, he was angry. After returning to Purdue, Miller enlisted in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force. He was placed in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, eventually being called up for service in 1942.
Training lasted for more than two years. Miller went through basic Air Corps training, then worked through the varying levels of flying. His education ranged from flying cross country to repairing aircraft engines to celestial navigation. He started by flying a small Piper Cub, before reaching the pinnacle of flight in World War II — the B-17 bomber.
By the middle of 1944, Miller was offered an option. He could either be assigned as a co-pilot and head to England for combat, or he could take an additional four months of heavy bombing training.
He chose to start his assignment right away. Miller was on his second bombing run Nov. 5, 1944, when his B-17 encountered stiff resistance in the skies above Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. Flak exploded all around the aircraft, and thick smoke filled the sky.
A piece of debris pierced the window of the plane, striking Miller in the chest. The metal cut off his oxygen supply, and he started to pass out. Only the quick thinking of a fellow soldier, who provided him with a reserve oxygen tank, saved his life.
Though his injury kept him out of combat for six weeks, Miller was able to return to flying bombers. And his bomber crew was one of 2,000 aircraft that were part of the effort to deliver critical supplies of food, ammunition and winter clothing to soldiers surrounded by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge.
“I got to be part of that maximum effort, to free those people trapped at Bastogne. If I had not elected to start my assignment, I would have still been in training, and I would have been worthless, unable to help anyone,” he said.
Miller has continued working to honor veterans and educating the public about the importance of military service. He has spoken at dozens of events.
He doesn’t do it to boast. Instead, he feels it’s his mission to stress that when the country needs you, you need to step forward.
“It was a privilege to serve. It was a privilege to go and do my job. That’s what I want people to know,” he said.