War Makes Men of Boys: A Soldier's World War II

War Makes Men of Boys: A Soldier's World War II

by Katherine I. Miller

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Hundreds of novels have been written about young men coming of age in war. And millions of young men have, in fact, come of age in combat. This is the story of one of them, as told by his daughter, based on the daily letters he wrote to his family in 1944 and 1945.

After ten months of stateside training, nineteen-year-old Joe Ted (Bud) Miller shipped out

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Hundreds of novels have been written about young men coming of age in war. And millions of young men have, in fact, come of age in combat. This is the story of one of them, as told by his daughter, based on the daily letters he wrote to his family in 1944 and 1945.

After ten months of stateside training, nineteen-year-old Joe Ted (Bud) Miller shipped out from New York harbor in November 1944 and served with the 63rd Infantry in France and Germany. Although he fought with his unit at the Colmar Pocket and earned a Bronze Star for his role in pushing through the Siegfried Line, his letters focus less on the details of battle than on the many aspects of his life in the military: food, PX, movies, biographies of friends and platoon-mates, training activities, travelogues, and the behavior (good and bad) of officers. Bud’s journalistic skills show in his letters and fill his reports with a wealth of objective detail, as well as articulate reflections on his feelings about his experiences.

Katherine I. Miller, a communication scholar, brings to her father’s letters—which form the centerpiece of the book—her scholarly training in analyzing issues such as the development of masculinity in historical context, the formation of adult identity, and the psychological effects of war. Further insights gained from additional personal and family archives, interviews with surviving family members, official paperwork, the unit history of the 63rd Infantry Division (254th Regiment), unit newspapers, pictorial histories, maps, and accounts by other unit members aided her in crafting this “interpretive biography.” The book also serves as a window onto more general questions of how individuals navigate complicated turning points thrown at them by external events and internal struggles as they move from youth to adulthood.

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Editorial Reviews

Dr. Nancy Gentile Ford

". . . engaging . . . a great combination from her father's personal letters and other primary sources, along with general and military history . . . well organized and well written . . . detailed . . . compelling"--Nancy Gentile Ford, professor of history, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Doctor - Nancy Gentile Ford
". . . engaging . . . a great combination from her father's personal letters and other primary sources, along with general and military history . . . well-organized and well-written . . . detailed . . . compelling"—Nancy Gentile Ford, professor of history, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Product Details

Texas A&M University Press
Publication date:
Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series, #140
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.80(d)

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War Makes Men of Boys

A Soldier's World War II

By Katherine I. Miller

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2013 Katherine I. Miller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-774-4


Bud Joins the Army

Throughout his life, my father disliked his name. In his later-life writings about the "good things" and "bad things" that happened during childhood, he notes that the first good thing was being born, and the first bad one was being named. Though in searching through Army records I found that he was known as Joseph T. Miller by parts of the military bureaucracy, his given name was Joe Ted. In official family lore, the "Joe" part was in honor of Joe Cannon, a powerful politician from Danville, Illinois, who served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1903 to 1911, and the "Ted" part was for Teddy Roosevelt, whom my father's father also greatly admired. Interestingly, these two namesakes were known for their political clashes, and each of them actually bore the longer moniker of Joseph or Theodore. The unofficial backstory of my father's name is that my grandmother disliked nicknames, so she used them—"Joe" and "Ted"—for the given names of her only son. However, throughout his childhood, my father was called "Bud" or "Buddy"—"Joe Ted" was used even by his nickname-hating mother only when disciplinary action was in order. As my father asks in his memoir, "What kind of logic is that?" A mother's logic, apparently, but it stuck. Dad's army letters were all signed "Bud."

Bud as a Child

My father was born November 14, 1925, in Danville, Illinois, a mid-sized town near the Indiana border east of the college town of Urbana and its sister city, Champaign. He was the middle child and only son of Oscar Francis and Irene Miller. His sister Dorothy was ten years old when he was born, and his younger sister, Judith, was born in 1931. He lived in Danville through the third grade, in a series of houses of which he remembered little. Dorothy told him later that "each one was worse than the one before, as the Depression struck and the money trickled away" (quoted in the memoir). In the summer of 1934, Dad's father lost his printing job and had to search for a new one. My father writes in his memoir that "Dad started hitchhiking west, stopping in Champaign and Urbana and in each little town—Fithian, St. Joe, Gibson City, Monticello—to ask about printshop jobs. It must have taken a lot of courage for him to do this. But then, in those times courage was born out of desperation. When you can't feed your family, you will do nearly anything." Oscar finally found employment in Bement, a small farming community sixty miles west of Danville. The family's first house in Bement had running water and electricity, but no indoor plumbing. Dad recalls that "it sure was cold, trotting out to the outhouse in the dead of winter. It made one strive to hold back the urges."

Three years later, after Dad had completed sixth grade, a new and better job at a print shop in Champaign led to another move for the family. Dad attended Junior High in Champaign; then the family moved across town to Urbana, after Oscar had accumulated enough money to start his own shop. The store, Dad remembers, "was in the rear and we had living quarters in the front, curtained off from the shop. There was not nearly the room we had had in Champaign, and I imagine Mom was distraught about the whole thing. But Dad had the start of his dream. It lasted only five years and never was a success. When he died he owed money to various people, including the postman. Mom went to work to pay off the debts, and gave the postman our gas kitchen stove for the interest."

My father and his family continued to live in Urbana, and he graduated from Urbana High School in 1943, one of several valedictorians. He was awarded a county scholarship to attend the University of Illinois and enrolled in classes for the summer after his senior year in high school. But that fall he turned eighteen and was quickly drafted. He left for his induction center at Fort Sheridan in northeastern Illinois in January 1944.

Many aspects of my father's childhood were typical of countless rural or small-town childhoods during the Great Depression. Both his grandfathers were deep-hole coal miners in the mines of southern Illinois, and my father's parents clearly remembered the poverty of their own youth and wanted better things for themselves and their children. Work was hard to come by in those years, and my grandfather struggled to find employment and to keep his family afloat. When my father was in the fifth grade and his mother contracted pneumonia, there was no money to pay the hospital for her care. This undoubtedly rankled the proud family. My father's younger sister, Judy, had to sleep on a cot in a hallway until she was almost a teenager. There were apparently many arguments about money, especially when my grandfather's ambition for his own print shop butted up against my grandmother's goal of basic economic security. "It seemed she was almost blaming Dad for the whole Depression even though he was doing his best to make a go of his work. I think she was afraid of his consuming desire to own his own shop, and would have preferred that he try to get a better job and draw a regular paycheck."

But the Miller family managed throughout the long Depression, though perhaps not in the best of living situations or with a great many luxuries. Luckily, the luxuries probably didn't matter much to young children. "We were always 'dirt poor,' as my mother said," Dad wrote, "but never poverty-stricken to the extent that we were starving. And somehow, my Dad and Mom could scare up an occasional dime for a soda and did what they could to make it a happy life."

Many years later, my father remembered details of everyday life in his Depression-era family. Some of his memories suggest how the family economized in small ways. He remembers that though his father loved bacon, they would often get "side meat" (salt pork) instead because it was cheaper, and that when low-priced margarine was introduced to stores, it came with an envelope of orange powder that could be worked into the lard-like substance to give it a buttery appearance. The family raised chickens in the backyard: "Mom would kill the chicken by grabbing it, holding a broomstick on its neck and twisting its head off. She was very quick and good at it." Soft-drink choice was dictated by economics, as well: "Dad loved Coke but when Pepsi came out with its 'twice as much for a nickel, too,' he switched over." Dad also recalled pastimes of the era, with both friends ("We used the knives to play mumble-peg at recess in the fall and spring. I was mediocre at the game and often had to pay the penalty, which was pulling a matchstick out of the ground with my teeth") and family ("My Dad played the bones—dried out beef rib bones which you shook between your fingers to get a rhythmic clattering sound"). Many of his writings recall details of everyday life that seem very foreign decades later, such as stopping an interurban train by lighting a match and throwing it on the track, or going to the door every morning to pick up the Meadow Gold milk with its "frozen cream which popped up from the neck."

Several threads that run through my father's childhood reminiscences define important aspects of his growing-up years. The first of these is education. My father's parents never completed high school, yet they were clearly intelligent and they had great respect for education. In the early years, my father admired teachers who taught the old-fashioned way, by emphasizing rote learning and disciplining poor behavior with corporal punishment. Dad clearly viewed this kind of education—both the memorization and the paddling—as a good thing. "I think my teachers in Bement—all women—did a great job of giving their kids a good basic grade school education. Nobody ever was punished for failure to learn, however. There was a little homework, and if you didn't do it, you did get punished. But the teachers helped you learn and didn't blame you if you had trouble with it." Past elementary school, my father continued his good academic performance and was rewarded for it. He was the county representative for a state spelling bee broadcast on the radio. He made excellent grades in all his subjects. He participated in the state Latin contest in high school, although he lamented that those private-school kids from Chicago were tough to beat. And he graduated from high school at the top of his class and won a scholarship to the University of Illinois.

A second part of his childhood that was clearly important to my father was hunting and fishing. The hunting was mostly for very small game—squirrels, rabbits, even pigeons. "It was so pleasant to sit under a tree with Dad in those woods and wait for a squirrel to poke its head out. I never felt sorry for the squirrels that we shot. They made delicious eating." One of my father's most valued Christmas presents was a single-shot .22 rifle. Fishing was even dearer to his heart than hunting. With his father, sisters, and family friends, he fished mostly on the Vermilion River. For a few years, the fishing parties stayed in a oneroom cabin that Oscar built on a distant relative's property. "We caught mostly carp and catfish, although a little ways from the Cabin was a sandbar where the water ran a little swifter and where there were a few bass." The best spot for fishing, though, was at Rocky Ford, on the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River. The bass fishing was good there, and my father was excited to try out his "Pfleuger tandem spinner," a newfangled artificial lure. He notes, though, that "Dad was more practical.... He'd turn over a few rocks in those shallow eddies, find some helgramites (black wormlike creatures with fierce pincers) or crawfish (which pinched but not so severely). He'd pop the helgramites and crawfish into his straw hat and then put his hat on. Apparently the critters didn't bother to pinch his mostly bald head, or else he just ignored them. He said it was the easiest way to carry bait."

And sports were also of great importance to my father during childhood. There was some actual playing of sports (neighborhood games of "round-ball," and running track a bit in junior high), but my father was small and not particularly athletic. He was, however, a great follower of sports at all levels. He and his father were both Chicago Cubs fans, and he clearly remembered his only trip to Wrigley Field as a child and an earlier trip to St. Louis to see the Cubs play the Cardinals at Sportsman's Park. He listened at night to the Chicago Black Hawks on a small radio under his pillow, though his mother got angry at him for staying awake past his bedtime. As an eighth grader, he became a "stringer" for the local newspaper, calling in scores for all the junior high games, and he continued his work as a sports writer for the News-Gazette in high school and college. He wrote with great fondness of going to University of Illinois football games. "I'd take a bus to the stadium and get a student seat in the end zone for 40 cents. Illinois didn't have a good team, so it was a great thrill when the Illini beat Michigan in 1939, when I was in the ninth grade." After that game he wrote a poem about it entitled "What a Game"; it opened with these stanzas:

    It was November the fourth in '39,
    That the Illinois team felt mighty fine,
    They felt so good that they beat Michigan,
    The team with Harmon, the mighty man.

    Tom was heralded like Grange, the great,
    But little did he know his fate,
    For the fighting Illini blocked his passes,
    They made the Wolverines look like asses.

One of my father's fondest youthful memories of sports was attending the Illinois state high school basketball tournament the year he was in ninth grade. He won a lottery for the tickets ($3.50 for the entire tournament) and wrote of the experience, "Eight games—two in the morning, three in the afternoon, and three in the evening—were held on the first day of the tournament, Thursday. There was a huge map of Illinois at one end of the gym, with lights for the 16 teams involved. When a team was eliminated its light went out. I considered it a marvelous day, watching the games amid all the excitement. I loved the LaGrange team because of the cheerleaders, the prettiest I had ever seen."

Finally, throughout my father's memoir about his childhood is the sense of a loving family and of his enduring affection for his mother, father, and sisters. My father saw his mother as the parent with great ambitions for him and with the disciplinary bent to make those ambitions a reality. "Mom was determined that her son was going to do the right things and do them well, and she used her strap to emphasize her determination." But he never doubted that she was motivated by a deep and abiding love. His relationship with his father was close, too; it was based on the love of shared activities. Together they fished and hunted, reveled in the successes of their favorite sports teams (like Gabby Hartnett's "homer in the gloaming" for the Cubs in 1938), listened to Amos and Andy and Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio, and occasionally attended a cowboy movie at the local cinema. Dad especially loved the times he could go back to the printshop at night with his father. "Mom never let me go on school nights, but on Saturday nights I'd sometimes go back with him, to fool around at setting type or to write on scratch paper or to run the job press slowly. We'd trade puns a lot. Dad loved puns. One time he told me, 'Did Miss-ouri wear the New Jersey or did Miss-issippi?' and then answered himself, 'Idaho.'"

Addressing young readers in a photography book about the Great Depression, Russell Freedman writes that it "widened the gap between America's haves and have-nots. Many children and teenagers belonged to families that were comfortably well off and were not badly hurt by the economic crisis. But millions of kids grew up poor. Some children lived under conditions we associate today with impoverished developing nations. They could only dream of a world in which childhood is a time of innocence and play." My father's memories of his childhood, however, suggest that there was clearly some "in-between" in this dichotomy, particularly for children. His father struggled to stay employed, and the family was uprooted on several occasions as he looked for work. Paying bills was a constant challenge, and side meat instead of bacon, Pepsi instead of Coke, an outhouse instead of plumbing, and inability to pay hospital bills were not the only inconveniences the family suffered. But in spite of the significant stress caused by financial privation, and in spite of the frequent arguments that broke out about it between his parents, for my father, childhood was happy.

It was largely a time of learning and of play. His mother may have described the family as "dirt poor," but my father always had a roof over his head and food to eat. He remained in school and was not forced to work to help support his family, and he was by and large protected from the domestic problems brought on by hard times. He not only fished and hunted with his father, but played with neighborhood friends, listened to the radio, and enjoyed occasional outings to the movie theater and sporting events. My father had many fond memories of his childhood, and he concluded his memoir by asserting with conviction that "growing up poor certainly did not mean growing up unhappy."

But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor less than a month after my father's sixteenth birthday, he must have realized that his future might not be quite what he had envisioned for himself during childhood. On December 20, 1941, the draft was extended to men between the ages of twenty and forty-five, and on November 13, 1942 (the day before his seventeenth birthday), the draft age was lowered to eighteen. Dad might have been hoping for a place in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), a merit-based program created by a special act of Congress and designed to train officers. It was open to enlistees from eighteen to twenty-two who had high school diplomas and who tested high on IQ. In the middle part of 1943, about 150,000 soldiers were assigned to ASTP units at over two hundred colleges and universities, and my father would probably have qualified for this program. But the program didn't last, and by early in 1944, these "best and brightest" were being assigned to infantry replacement training camps. My father didn't have a chance to be disappointed by this shift in policy, though, as the ASTP stopped accepting recruits shortly before his eighteenth birthday. So when that birthday arrived in November 1943, he joined thousands of other young men as a regular draftee in the U.S. Army.

Bud in Basic Training

These people, they really put you in your place. That's a polite way of sayin' it. They humiliate ya, they make ya do things that you don't think are physically possible. At the same time, they're makin' you feel you're something. That you're part of something. When you're there and you need somebody, you got somebody. ROGER TUTTRUP, IN STUDS TERKEL'S The Good War


Excerpted from War Makes Men of Boys by Katherine I. Miller. Copyright © 2013 Katherine I. Miller. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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