The Biography of - VI Corps Combat Engineers WWII

The World War 2 era Biography of
William Franklin Miller ( Serial #01 106 962)
Institute collection #01.600
Born: Wooster, Ohio July 7, 1919
Graduate of Wooster High School and The College of Wooster
Enlisted: April 23, 1942
William Franklin Miller was the 3rd son and 4th child of Arthur Miller and Helen Eddy
Miller, and was born July 7, 1919 in Wooster, Ohio. On the back of his portrait at
age 1-year his mother wrote, ”This is Billy. We consider him one of our best
efforts.” Bill graduated from Wooster High School (1937) and then attended The
College of Wooster, where he studied political science and geology and earned
his degree in 1941. He was a star football player in both High School and
College and president of his junior and senior classes at the College. In June,
1941 he married Barbara Loomis Caldwell, the “Honey” mentioned so often in
the captions of his photographs. His first son was born April 15, 1943.
Upon enlistment in the Army, Bill was sent for training to Camp Claiborne, La.
In July, he was accepted for Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia,
and was commissioned 2nd Lt. in the Corp of Engineers on 25 November 1942.
He was then stationed briefly at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.
In what his wife described years later as a “punishment” for an unauthorized
leave to visit her in the hospital in Ohio, Bill was then assigned to the 378th Egr. Bn.
(Separate) (Cld), a colored unit with white officers. That unit departed New York
on 5 May 1943 aboard the French liner “Pasteur,” arriving in Casablanca, French
Morocco on 12 May. The 378th was assigned to Atlantic Base Section
Headquarters, and during the next 8 months the battalion was engaged in
numerous construction projects of all types. The battalion bivouac during this
time was on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea near Arzew, Algeria.
In January, 1944 the Bn. was attached to the Invasion Training Center at Port Aux
Poules, Algeria and constructed, and then maintained, the training course for
the 85th Infantry Division prior to the 85th’s landing in Italy. In March 1944 the
battalion was reorganized into a collection of special purpose units, such as map
depot, Bailey Bridge construction, and heavy hauling. The units were scattered
piecemeal around the Seventh Army theater in southern France from 9/44 to
2/45. In May or June 1944, Bill was promoted to 1st Lt.
From 30 Sept 1944 to 15 Dec 1944, Bill was assigned to the Light Equipment
Company, which hauled heavy bridge timbers from a mill near Besancon to a
depot at Epinal, France. During this time period, numerous command,
equipment, and morale problems are noted in the Bn. history. (See below)
In Feb 1945 the 378th Egr. Bn. was disbanded and Bill joined “C” Co. of the 2827th
Egr. Combat Bn., in the newly reorganized 36th Egr. Combat Group. He
remained in this assignment for the duration of the war, and was in
Partenkirchen, Austria on VE Day. One of his unit’s important assignments during
the last days of the war was the building of a 216 ft., class 40 treadway bridge
across the Danube River.
Also in Feb., 1945, Bill was awarded the Bronze Star for “Meritorious achievement
in ground operations against the enemy, European Theater of Operations,
1 October 1944 – 1 December 1944.”
He returned to the US on 17 Sept. 1945, and was a Captain at the time of his
discharge. Bill’s three brothers and one sister also served in the armed forces
during the war, and all returned home safely.
Bill died 30 Nov. 1954 in an accident at the slag shipping plant where he was
general manager. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Heroism (bronze)
for his attempt to save a coworker.
There are two questions about Bill’s service during the War that remain largely
1. Bill may have been on detached service from the 378th in Feb. – May 1944,
serving in Italy in a mine removal and/or bridge building unit. No supporting
documents have as yet been found.
2. What specific actions did Bill take to be awarded the Bronze Star?
As to the second question, no records have been found that describe the events
leading to the award of the Bronze Star. A few clues that can be gleaned from
the 378th unit history for the period 14 Sept 1944 – 15 Dec 1944 are below.
“ Because of the shortage of officers, the two Light Equipment Companies were
consolidated into one company with the equipment of two, the enlisted strength
of two, and the officer strength of one.”
[Operations ] “…. Resulted in wide dispersion and made control a difficult
[Lack of rank and pay equity with white equipment operators in other engineer
units] “… Created considerable hard feeling. Great effort was required on the
part of all officers to prevent a bad break-down of morale.”
The most likely conclusion from the unit history is that the award of the Bronze Star
is probably the result of hard work and good leadership during a very difficult
time and situation. It appears that the “meritorious achievement” was that Bill
was able to maintain the morale and efficiency of his men, and successfully deal
with the difficulties of command and control of a widely dispersed company.
James A. Miller
West Linn, Oregon
26 June 2002