Colonel Virgil R, Miller, 442nd Commander. Photo: Virgil R. Miller Family.
Colonel Virgil Rasmuss Miller
Virgil "Gil" R. Miller was born on November 11, 1900, in San Germán, Puerto Rico, the son of Paul G. and Ella A. Miller. His early years were spent in San Germán until the family moved to Wisconsin where Paul pursued graduate studies culminating in a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. In 1915, now Dr. Miller was appointed Commissioner of Education in Puerto Rico necessitating a family move back to the island but this time to San Juan. Virgil attended El Caribe High School, served in the Puerto Rico Home Guard during World War I, and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point from the Governor of Puerto Rico, Arthur Yager. Virgil was among the first appointed to the United States Military Academy from Puerto Rico. Not unexpectedly, Virgil was fluent in English and Spanish.
Trading the warm breezes and sunshine of Puerto Rico for the four seasons of New York, Cadet Miller embarked on his military journey in the summer of 1920. By all accounts, he was a good student but he always found time to engage in his favorite hobby, horses. According to the Howitzer of 1924, “[m]any are the hours he has spent straddling a chair, swinging a broomstick at a shoe.” This skill would be put to practical use in later years when, as a young officer, he could be found playing polo, a popular military diversion during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1924 he graduated and was commissioned as an Infantry Second Lieutenant departing shortly thereafter for his first assignment as a Platoon Commander, C Company, 18th Infantry, Fort Slocum, New York.
Aside from the routine military duties endured as a 2nd Lt. at Fort Slocum, Virgil found time to properly romance his future wife, Ann McGoughran, getting married in 1925. Virgil and Ann would have five children with three surviving into adulthood, William, Richard, and Julia.
In March 1926, 2nd Lt. Miller was posted from Fort Slocum to the Post of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with Company D, 65th Infantry. The return to Puerto Rico must have been a welcome change after six years in New York. On September 17, 1926, 2nd Lt. Miller assumed command of his first company in the 65th Infantry. Although enjoying his command for just a handful of months, no doubt that this was an exciting challenge for a young officer barely two years away from West Point.
In all likelihood posted to Puerto Rico due to his Spanish fluency, his reporting officer wrote, “[t]his officer speaks Spanish fluently and for that reason he is very valuable with troops in Porto [sic] Rico. He is not at all excitable and handles these men unusually well for one with such limited length of service. He knows the traits of these men and is able to get the most from them.” Suffice to say, 2nd Lt. Miller, perhaps a man ahead of his time in a still rigidly segregated society, saw his soldiers as soldiers and treated them with the respect they deserved. As is true of so many soldiers, 2nd Lt. Miller enjoyed honing his craft. As his reporting officer noted, “[h]e performs field duties better than garrison duties.”
In 1929 the tropical setting gave way to a new assignment at Madison Barracks, New York, perhaps one of the snowiest regions of the United States. 2nd Lt. Miller became 1st Lt. Miller during his assignment at Madison Barracks and served in battalion staff and company line positions. In late 1932, 1st Lt. Miller and his young family headed to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend the Company Officers Course.
Following the completion of the Company Officers Course in 1933, 1st Lt. Miller was assigned to Company D, 1st Infantry, Fort Francis E. Warren, Wyoming. Once again he served in staff and company line positions and received his promotion to Captain. In 1937 the family was on the move again, this time to the Presidio of San Francisco, California for more staff duty and assignment as Commander, Company H, 30th Infantry. Once again his love for the field shows through with his reporting officer writing, “[h]e is the most outstanding and capable Officer I have ever had in my command. He obtains superior results. He is particularly outstanding in field training.”
In 1940 Captain Miller and his family departed San Francisco for Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii where Captain Miller was assigned as a brigade staff officer in the 21st Infantry Brigade. While in Hawaii Captain Miller became Major Miller and then Lieutenant Colonel Miller. On December 7, 1941, he was serving as a senior staff officer in Headquarters, 24th Infantry Division.
In July 1942, Lt. Col. Miller reported for duty as a battalion commander at Fort McClellan, Alabama serving under Colonel C.W. Pence, Commander, 6th Training Regiment and later the first Commanding Officer of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In March 1943, Lt. Col. Miller followed Colonel Pence to Camp Shelby, Mississippi where he assumed duties as the Executive Officer of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In 1944 he deployed with the 442 to Italy and later to France and then again back to Italy. In October 1944, Lt. Col. Miller replaced Col. Pence as the Commanding Officer and was later promoted to Colonel. He stayed with the 442 until the Regiment departed Europe for inactivation in the United States in 1946.
Col. Miller served in Italy until 1947 and served seven more years before retiring in 1954. During that time, Col Miller served as an infantry advisor in Turkey and a Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Pennsylvania State College, Lehigh University, and the University of Michigan. Upon retirement, he remained in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he went to work at the Willow Run Laboratories of the University of Michigan as an Administrative Associate and Head of the Program Control Office. He enjoyed gardening, cooking, and fishing. He died on August 5, 1968, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In a very special tribute, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye arranged for the 442nd Regimental Colors to be present at the ceremony.
That Col. Miller loved the men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion is beyond question. He would describe his time with the 442 RCT as “the most satisfactory and rewarding of my thirty years of service.” While serving as the Regimental Executive Officer, then Lt. Col. Miller was offered promotion and command of the 65th Infantry Regiment, which he declined to stay with the 442 RCT. “Within this relatively short time, he developed a strong bond with the Nisei soldiers, and they shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other. More importantly, even though he was an officer and they were his soldiers, they recognized each other as equals in humanity. After the war, he continued to be a fierce advocate for Nisei soldiers returning home, publicizing their wartime heroism and sacrifices, and openly defending their rights as Americans.”
In 1966 Col. and Mrs. Miller journeyed to Hawaii to “get some sunshine and escape the Michigan winter.” However, as Mrs. Miller wrote following the trip, “[w]e were not many hours on the way before Ann realized that the purpose of the trip was not the search for sunshine, but rather, the opportunity it offered for a visit with the ‘boys’ of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, with whom Gil had served for three years during World War II, and for whom he has always had the highest regard.”
Col. Miller took great pride in the accomplishments of his former soldiers. Perhaps best capturing the high and heartfelt regard Col. Miller had for the men of the 442 is a tribute he penned following his trip to Hawaii. “It was wonderful to meet the boys as friends, and to see how successful they have been in civilian life. The ‘Go for Broke’ spirit with which they had fought the war, continues on into civilian life. Each, within his means and talents, is in the highest bracket within his field. Each has the welfare of his community at heart . . . Without a doubt, the next generation will carry on, and assume places of leadership in the professions, business and government, just as their fathers have done.” Mission complete.