By Catherine Ellerton
Moapa Valley Progress
His story starts innocently enough. Don Miller was born in Santa Ana, California where he grew up. Following his graduation he worked at the Lighter Than Air Base in Tustin, California. This base held blimps and many of the hangars still exist today. Miller was working as a welder’s helper when he was drafted into the Army in January of 1943.
He became a member of the Army Engineers and received his specialized training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The Corps of Engineers consisted of specialty platoons whose jobs included building bridges, port and harbor rehabilitations, camouflage, map production, rescue and road patrols and clearing rubble. The 1090s Company, of which Don was a member, was responsible for rebuilding hospitals, water supplies, electrical/plumbing problems and setting up infra-structure.
It was at this time that the group was becoming ineffective because they had no one fixing food and keeping those supplies coming. Don volunteered to take over this task and was promised he would go back into the Platoon (the 10th Engineers) when they went overseas.
In May of 1943 they shipped overseas on the “SS Mariposa” which was a luxury ocean liner that had been converted into a military transport ship. He remained with the Engineers; but as the cook. The “Dog Faces” went to Italy via Casablanca and were soon embroiled in the Italian Campaign. This became the longest campaign in the war and was known as “The Forgotten Front.” Miller remembers that the Germans came in night after night and bombed the harbor in Naples.
“You never knew where a bomb would land,” he said.
They were in Naples for the battle to capture Monte Cassino – a hilltop Benedictine Abbey which was a crucial strategic point to those that held it. This fell in the spring of 1944 and the 3rd Army Division’s Operation Dragoon continued to Marseille, France; on to Monheim, Germany, and then to Belgium.
During these horrific battles, Miller stated that the Army tried to provide good food to keep the men healthy. Frozen chicken, boxes of beef, lots of “Spam”, (of which he still can’t stand the smell) and corned beef hash.
Once in Italy they received a load of flour and Don said the kitchen staff stayed up half the night making cinnamon rolls for the 240 men and 13 officers they were feeding every day.
“You try to make the best of it,” Don stated.
In 1946 Don was released from the service in San Pedro, California. He went to work for a painting contractor in Orange and Garden Grove.
In 1984 he retired to his small ranch where he raised research animals.
In 1990 he and his wife moved to the Moapa Valley as some friends lived here. They came just in time for a big flood. But they decided to stay anyway.