ANCHORAGE — George Miller had to wait 68 years to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross medal for bravery shown in World War II when his actions enabled the bomber he was on to safely return to its air base.
The 87-year-old veteran was awarded his combat medal Monday at a ceremony at the Anchorage Veterans Memorial, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Miller was the flight engineer on the B-24 bomber, based in Italy and making runs on targets in Germany and central Europe.
On Feb. 24, 1945, their mission was over Linz, Austria.
“We had just dropped the bombs,” he said. “The bomb bay doors were still open, and we got hit. It broke a fuel pump.”
When gasoline erupted in the plane, Miller worked his way along a narrow catwalk in the middle of the plane’s belly, with 25,000 feet between him and the ground. The bomb bay doors were left open to keep gas fumes from building up.
As he pumped as much fuel as he could out of the affected fuel tank, gas showered him from the damaged pump above his head. He tried to staunch the flow with his hand.
“The gasoline was spraying all over,” he said. “It ran down my arm and filled my boots. The air temperature was 60 below, and I’m assuming that’s what the gas was, too.”
He endured it for as long as he could before making his way back into the interior of the plane.
“It was all my body could stand,” he said.
Once back inside, the crew turned their electric flight suits on “hot” and covered him. They threw his gas-soaked clothes out of the plane. The co-pilot tucked Miller’s feet under his flight jacket and next to his own skin.
But the ordeal was not over. The plane ran out of gas before it could get back to base. “Luckily, there were fighter strips in Northern Italy, and we were able to land there,” Miller said.
The big bomber had to be relieved of most of its weight to get off the short strip. It took off with just the pilot, co-pilot and Miller. The rest of the crew followed by road.
“TSgt Miller’s quick thinking and bravery enabled the entire crew and plane to return safely to the air base,” said the citation, which credited him with “outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty.”
A recommendation for the medal was written up quickly, but the officer in charge was seriously injured and flown to a hospital in the states before he could forward the paperwork. “The new guy came in and just cleaned out the desk and went to work,” Miller said.
The commendation was lost.
Sixty-five years later, Miller learned that his former commanding officer, John Charlton, was still alive. Miller made contact, and Charlton told him that he was put in for a medal.
Originally from upstate New York, Miller served in the Air Corps and then the Air Force until 1964. He moved to Anchorage in 1981 after his daughter and son-in-law relocated to Elmendorf Air Force Base.
“They were here. All of my grandchildren are here. So I’m here,” he said.
As Miller moved up the sidewalk Monday with his walker, one of his seven great-grandchildren, 7-year-old Gabriel Whitesell, ran up to give him a hug, shouting, “Congratulations, Grampa!”