Myron and Myra MillerI remember looking for the red glow outlining the tip of his cigarette burning in the dark summer night. I knew he was out there in the yard, sitting by himself quietly, in the white wooden rocker. I didn’t realize he could see me against the light illuminating from the house, a seven-year-old, sneaking barefoot through the cool and tickly grass.

If I was lucky, he would have his harmonica with him. I remember listening for the soft wail of “Red River Valley,” knowing he was cupping his hands around the mouthpiece to get just the right vibrato on certain notes. Then, he would launch into “Oh! Susanna” or “You Are My Sunshine” with a swift and lively beat… probably, because he knew I was creeping just a few feet away! Then he would grin (it felt like he was grinning even though it was dark) and say, “Get up here on my lap!”

I would climb up and he would start to softly sing;

She climbs upon my knee
She’s all the world to me
To me, she’ll always be
That little girl of mine

 

Two eyes that shine so bright
Two lips that kiss at night
Two arms that hold me tight
To me, she’ll always be
That little girl of mine

Fast forward to 1979, my dad was president of the Dixon R1 School Board and I was a graduating senior. He was on stage to hand everyone in my class their diploma—I got an extra hug and a kiss with mine! Then off to college I went, leaving my mom and dad with an empty nest and his illness that nobody ever spoke about.
I was busy… busy with classes, taking care of the volleyball team, working a part-time job, and enjoying my freedom. Too busy to go home much.

It was November of 1980, and he caught a cold. Due to his immune system being weak from leukemia, he couldn’t fight the infection. A week later, right before Thanksgiving, he passed away. I was a 19-year-old college student without a daddy.

Myron H Miller WWII Germany 1945Thirty-five years later, in December of 2015, I was watching a WWII documentary. I called my brother to ask what unit my dad served in during WWII. He emailed me a page of information. At that moment, I realized that I didn’t know anything about what he did in the war. The documentary scared me; Was my dad one of those guys? How did I not know this? I felt so ashamed for not knowing, not caring, not asking.

The rest of the story is kind of a blur. I started researching and felt a huge adrenaline rush when I would find a key piece of information that none of my siblings knew about our father. Once I found the United States Army 83rd Infantry Division Facebook page, things really started snowballing. The book idea, a trip to Europe with my brothers following our dad’s WWII footsteps, meeting seven experts from the 83rd Infantry Division Association, European Chapter, attending the 83rd Infantry Division Association’s 70th Reunions, finding more important people whose fathers and grandfathers were in WWII, hearing the stories of veterans still living, more trips to Europe with other families looking for footsteps, laying out the pages of 150+ stories in our book Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs – Volume I, and now working on the production of Soldiers’ Stories – Volume II.

Photo of the book created by Footsteps Researchers for PFC William PicardToday, I am the team leader of Footsteps Researchers helping people from around the world find the history of their WWII soldier and discovering footsteps through archival documents. We have thirteen people on the team literally from around the world! Each of us has a specialty and bring great talents to the team. Through our various roles, we provide archival documents, files, reports, and footsteps research in addition to consulting and leading footsteps tours.

Recently, we added a non-profit arm to Footsteps Researchers when we realized we had the resources to help in a different way. Through LEGACY: Lost and Found, our 501-c-3, we return lost WWII relics by searching for the family and reuniting the item with the rightful owner.

We have returned a pocket knife found in a foxhole in Germany to the family of the soldier who lost it 74 years ago. We are currently planning the return of a record with the voice of a soldier who lost his life in March 1945… he didn’t make it home, but his family will be comforted to hear his voice once again when we return the disc. We also help Europeans, who adopt graves of our WWII soldiers, learn about the person who is buried in the grave they have chosen to care for by sending them archive files. This past year, we played a significant role in a plane crash project, assisting in the 100% confirmation of the plane and crew that went down on Christmas Day 1944 in Lafosse, Belgium.

What a whirlwind and life-changing experience these last three years have been.

I hope my daddy is proud of his little girl.

This post was authored by:

Myra Miller, historical advisor on The Girl Who Wore FreedomMyra Miller

Historical Advisor on The Girl Who Wore Freedom

Myra Miller is the daughter of a WWII soldier, a professor, WWII researcher, European tour guide, film producer, author, and designer. She is the founder of Footsteps Researchers and LEGACY: Lost and Found and a historical advisor on The Girl Who Wore Freedom. You can find Footsteps Researchers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.