My dad and Kenny Miller were together on the afternoon of December 7, 1941. They heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor together. And they decided to enlist in the Army the next morning when the recruiting station opened. These were kids who had been abandoned by America, but they were outraged that someone would attack Her. They were poor, seldom-do-wells who demanded that She be protected, even with their lives.
December 8, 1941 Kenny was in line in front of my dad. They each signed up, enlisted in the American Army to defend Her with their lives. They were split up. My dad ended up as an engineer building airfields in India, then Burma and ultimately in China. Kenny ended up as a waist gunner on a B-24 serving in the 8th Air Force (389th BGr, 566th BSq) in England. Two American boys from St. Paul, Minnesota shuffled by the winds of chance to the far corners of the world.
Kenny was killed in 1944 when his B-24 was shot down over Holland. His body was buried with dignity by the local Dutch people in their cemetery. (And after the War moved to an American Military Cemetery). He was honored then and is still honored by the Dutch as one of thousands of Americans who died setting them free.
My dad, his brothers and Kenny's brothers all served in WWII and all made it home. They went on to have families and birthdays and good jobs and some bad jobs and good marriages and some bad marriages and grand kids and almost new Chevrolets and all the things that were part of the American dream. They worked hard and made America a better place than the one that they grew up in. Kenny never came home. He remained the small kid (probably from poor diet as a child) who went off to war to protect his America.
My dad never told me this (in fact this is one of many tidbits of my dad's humanity that my mother revealed long after dad died), but each year around Memorial Day he would go to the National Cemetery at Fort Snelling and lay some flowers at the monument. The flowers were in Memory of his best friend Kenny, who died because he was in line in front of my dad at the recruiting station on December 8, 1941. My dad wasn't that morbid or responsible, but he was well aware of the randomness of life and of death.
I'm not going to go to Fort Snelling today. But I am going to set some flowers aside in Memory of Kenny Miller and all the other kids who died to keep America free. Those who died because, no matter what hand they had been dealt, they knew they had to protect Her.
P.S. - I found this note posted on another blog and it brought a tear to my eye:
I received an e-mail today from Mrs. Irma Haex of Holland. She and her teenage son, Wesley, have adopted the graves of four Americans buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.
We do this out of respect for the men who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, it is 65 years ago that the war ended, but most of the Dutch people won’t forget.
I thought people here might enjoy knowing that there people like Irma and Wesley Haex, tending the graves of our fallen overseas
P.P.S. -- Kenny was the only member of the crew killed that day. Everyone else escaped the plane and eventually was captured by the Germans. They all lived to be liberated from POW camps by American soldiers near the end of the War. The official account states:
"Miller was killed at his waist gunner’s station during the fighter attack. The Germans originally buried his body in the village cemetery at Henrick-Ido-Ambacht, South Holland, Netherlands."