Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Wolfman of Arundel

Following his rescue, Hugh Miller displays the hinomaru yosegaki (寄せ書き日の丸) flag he took from the body of one of the first enemy troops he killed on Arundel Island. Carried by the majority of Japanese military personnel in World War II, these flags were symbols of good luck given to men before they deployed. Inscribed with patriotic slogans, religious sayings and good wishes for health and success in battle, the flags were often worn wrapped around the body. (National Archives. Courtesy of Mr. Stephen Harding)
(Source)

Until tipped off by one of my readers, Frank, I had never heard this story before, once I started digging into it, there are so many elements to the story it's hard to know where to start. But I'll give it a shot.

Let's start with that chap in the opening photo, one Lieutenant Hugh Miller, late of the USS Strong (DD 467), a Fletcher-class destroyer lost to a Japanese torpedo on the 5th of July, 1943. LT Miller graduated from the University of Alabama and had been on the football team while there. A 140-lb quarterback, he actually started two games at that position in his college days. The Crimson Tide went undefeated in 1930 and went on to defeat Washington State 24 - 0 at the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, 1931.

When World War II started, Miller became an officer in the United States Navy, inevitably he received the nickname, "Rose Bowl."
After college, he went on to begin a career in law, until joining the Navy in support of the mounting war effort. Stuck stateside in Florida assigned to a staff position, he would bump into Navy Cmdr. Joseph H. Wellings. Wellings was on his way to assume command of the soon-to-be-commissioned USS Strong (DD 467), being built in Bath, Maine. After some convincing and cajoling by Miller, Wellings saw to it that the lawyer-would-be-surface-warfare-officer would join the wardroom. 
The ship commissioned in August 1942, and Miller would serve as the 20 mm and stores officer. His posting was topside on the flying bridge. His role in battle was to direct the aim of the anti-aircraft gunners against attacking aircraft. A college-level quarterback, he had a keen eye for blitzing foes, and could quickly yet effectively communicate to his teammates where to focus their aim – while under fire. Besides, his fellow crewmembers would not let him forget his ‘glory days,’ affectionately nicknaming him “Rose Bowl.” (Source)
USS Strong's brief war record in the Pacific was impressive, it's worth quoting at length from the ship's Wikipedia entry:
USS Strong sailed on 27 December 1942; transited the Panama Canal; refueled at Bora Bora, Society Islands; and arrived at Noumea on 27 January 1943. Strong then escorted the convoy northwest for two days and was relieved to return to Nouméa. On 1 February, she and USS Cony escorted a convoy bound for Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. She sailed from there on 5 February for the Solomon Islands and patrolled off Guadalcanal until the 13th when she joined Task Force 67 (TF 67) composed of four cruisers and their destroyer screen.
The task force devoted most of the next month to patrol duty in waters in and around the Solomons. On 14 March, USS Strong, USS Nicholas, USS Radford, and USS Taylor were detached to bombard shore installations on Kolombangara island and shelled targets on Vila Stanmore Plantation on 16 March. The force then resumed patrol duties in the Solomons. On the morning of 5 April, USS Strong made a surface radar contact at a range of 9,350 yards. The target was illuminated by her searchlight and proved to be a Japanese submarine. USS Strong and USS O'Bannon opened fire with all guns. USS Strong made at least three 5-inch hits on the submarine, and USS O'Bannon also scored. The submarine, Ro-34, settled by the stern and went under. Depth charge patterns from the destroyers ensured that it stayed down.
USS Strong, with TF 18, accompanied three destroyer minelayers to Blackett Strait, between Kolombangara and Arundel Island, and mined it in the early morning hours of 7 May. The next morning, four Japanese destroyers sailed around Kolombangara into the strait and the minefield. One sank immediately; two were damaged and sunk by aircraft that afternoon; and the fourth, although badly damaged, managed to escape.
On the night of 12–13 May, USS Strong and the task force bombarded Kolombangara, Enogai Inlet, and Rice Anchorage. The destroyer then began escort and patrol duty off Guadalcanal. On the afternoon of 16 June, she was about halfway between Guadalcanal and Tulagi when a flight of approximately 15 Japanese dive bombers attacked American shipping. Strong was the closest ship to the bombers as they approached in a shallow glide from the direction of Koli Point. Between 14:14 and 14:21, she splashed three of them.
On the morning of 5 July, American forces landed at Rice Anchorage. USS Strong and TF 18 were to support the landings by shelling Vila-Stanmore, Enogai, and Bairoko. USS Strong and USS Nicholas entered Bairoko Harbor to search ahead of the main force and shelled the harbor from 00:30 to 00:40. Nine minutes later, USS Strong's gunnery officer sighted a torpedo wake. Before he had time to notify the bridge, the torpedo hit her port side aft. USS Chevalier intentionally rammed USS Strong's bow to enable her to throw nets and lines to the stricken ship, and removed 241 men in about seven minutes. Japanese gunners on Enogai beach spotted the ships, illuminated them with star shells, and then opened fire with high explosives. USS O'Bannon began counter-battery fire in an effort to silence the enemy guns which were soon hitting USS Strong. USS Chevalier had to cease rescue operations lest she also get hit.
USS Strong began to settle rapidly with a 40° to 60° list to starboard. She broke in half just before sinking. Several of her depth charges exploded, causing further injuries and loss of life. Forty-six men perished with the ship. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 July 1943. The fatal Type 93 torpedo was a wayward Long Lance which came from a salvo fired by the Japanese destroyers, led by Niizuki, heavily engaged in a separate naval action with American light cruisers and destroyers in the Battle of Kula Gulf, from a distance of 11 nautical miles, and is believed to be longest-range successful torpedo attack in history.
Sounds like LT Miller was a pretty good anti-aircraft gunnery officer. Not all of USS Strong's survivors made it across to USS Chevalier -
Miller's ship, the USS Strong, was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in the Solomon Islands on the night of July 4–5, 1943, leaving Miller in the water with 22 other men.
Three days later, Miller washed up on Arundel Island (now referred to as Kohinggo*) with three shipmates (some had died in the water while still others had been separated at night). After hiding from the enemy for days, Miller eventually ordered the other three men to take his boots and knife, and leave him behind, given his severely-wounded condition. He said later, "I thought I was dying, but then I rallied..." The others did leave him behind, attempting to return to U.S.-held territory. They were never heard from again. (Source)
So there's LT Miller, he has survived the sinking of his ship, he spent three days in the water before getting ashore, he's badly injured, and he orders his three companions to leave him, seems like he's done for.

But he's not.

I'd tell you more but you can read the whole story (and you should) over at the Naval History and Heritage Command's blog The Sextant, it's a good read. Why he wasn't awarded the Medal of Honor is beyond me, but he was awarded the Navy's second highest medal, the Navy Cross (along with two Silver Stars and six Bronze Stars along the way) -

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Hugh Barr Miller, Jr., United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving on board the Destroyer U.S.S. STRONG (DD-467), in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Kula Gulf on 4 - 5 July 1943. Thrown into the water following the sinking of his vessel, Lieutenant Miller extricated two comrades who were entangled in a line on the ship's side and held them above water until he could place them in a net. He took charge of a group of survivors who finally reached a small island. Unwilling to allow his weakened condition to retard their progress, he ordered them ahead and remained behind to wage a lone battle against enemy units. Menaced constantly by hostile scouting companies, he maintained himself for 39 days until rescued by a friendly airplane. The conduct of Lieutenant Miller throughout this action reflects great credit upon himself, and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I imagine had he been healthy he might have wiped out the Japanese on the island entirely!

USS Strong (DD 467) highlines mail to USS Honolulu (CL 48) during operations in the Solomon Islands area, circa early July 1943. USS Strong was torpedoed and sunk off New Georgia on July 5, 1943.
(U.S. Navy photo now in the collections of the National Archives)

The story doesn't end there, the wreckage of LT Miller's ship was discovered below the sea in February of 2019 by the late Paul G. Allen’s research vessel (R/V) Petrel. Forty-six of LT Miller's shipmates lie beneath the sea with her. (You can read the whole account here.)

Rest In Peace sailors, your sacrifice was not in vain, you are not forgotten.





* Which apparently is what the inhabitants called it all along.

42 comments:

  1. “I’m not trapped on an island with a bunch of Japs, a bunch of Japs are trapped on an island with me.” ~LT Miller, probably

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  2. I read his story in "Great Untold Stories of World War 2". That came up in the comments several months ago, and I found a 3 dollar copy of that book online. I've read those stories again, and they are as exciting as I remember them.

    Thanks for filling out that story.

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  3. Can't say it any better than that, a bear. A good pickup to highlight one man's fight for survival as well as his ship's saga. Well done Sarge.

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    1. A bit late here, but a hat tip to (Don McCollor??). I had the general info about the place (somewhere in the Pacific), but he had the specifics of who and where.
      Frank

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    2. But you started it...

      Now I sound like my kid brother. 😉

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  4. Hey AFSarge;

    Dang good story; That episode is worthy of a Hollywood retelling, but I am afraid that they would mess it up. Now if it was told 20 or 30 years ago before the SJW stupidity took over, it would be epic. Thanks

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    1. Good point MrG.

      Nowadays the filming would be better, but no doubt political correctness would somehow be injected for the SJWs. (Which I interpret as Stupid Jackass Wimps. FWIW.)

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    2. I wonder if it was the basis for "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" with Robert Mitchum. Or not. But it would make a great movie. Maybe someone could finally get some decent CGI so the destroyer scenes don't look too fake.

      And... well... if you had looked at the article you linked to, you would see that the Navy actually produced a 30 minute mini-movie on the story... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65PuPEhljq4&feature=youtu.be

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    3. I read that, didn't chase the link, glad you did.

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  5. Wow!
    Just wow.
    Had he not been USNR, he might have received the higher honor.
    Then again, “Great Untold...”

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    1. Hard to say on the higher honor, but yes, politics has been around forever. (Didn't the Ancient Greeks invent that? 😏)

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    2. The story has been around, I just learned of it from reader Frank the other day.

      So if any of you have stories...

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    3. On the other hand, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Navy Cross with Admiral Halsey also attending, in the recovery hospital in New Caledonia. So, well, it just wasn't a superior presenting him the award. It was a direct representative of the President.

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    4. Roger that, which is impressive all by itself.

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    5. As much as I despise FDR and Eleanor and the way they ran things, they did political theater very well.

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    6. (Don McCollor)...I think I forgot to publish this last night (or if you deleted it, forgive me). I don't know if you do civilian WW2 stories and this one is not heroic, but romantic and inspiring. In 1943, Britain was desperate for oil. They had a little onshore resources, but not much. A top secret mission with the highest priority sailed for England on the Queen Elizabeth - Oil field roughnecks out of Texas and Oklahoma to drill for oil in Sherwood Forest (the abode of Robin Hood). And their work permits were signed by the High Sheriff of Nottingham. https://aoghs.org/petroleum-in-war/roughnecks-of-sherwood-forest/

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    7. Wow, that is a great story! I may have to dig into that further. POCIR!

      History is history, WWII was won by civilians and military working together. We needed both to win!

      Thanks Don!

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    8. (Don McCollor)…]somewhere I have an account of a female teenage welder. She hated production welding, because the life of a ship and all the lives aboard her depended on her welds...

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    9. That could make a conscientious person lose sleep. If you find it, let me know.

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  6. Great story - thanks for sharing it. So much grit and determination, although I am sure that any of the reporters in the White House Press Corps could do it better ... bastiges!

    Roll Tide!!

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    1. Hahaha!

      (Thanks for the obligatory "Roll Tide" comment. Remember the movie Crimson Tide? A big favorite of mine, since we're on the Alabama topic. 😉)

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    2. Remember the movie - Gene Hackman and Denzell Washington. Pretty entertaining... and since I am not nor have ever been a submariner, any inaccuracies in the movie didn't annoy me like ones do that involve stupid gun handling/portrayal.

      As for the Roll Tide slogan, I found this interesting:
      "The term 'Crimson Tide' was coined by Hugh Roberts, past sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald. He used the nickname to describe the 1907 Auburn-Alabama game played in Birmingham," the department's website explains. "The game, played in a sea of crimson mud, was the last game played between the two rivals until 1948 when the series resumed. The term coined because the red mud stained the Alabama white jerseys crimson. Alabama held Auburn, the favorite to win, to a 6-6 tie, gaining the name the 'Crimson Tide.' 'Roll Tide' was said to illustrate the Alabama varsity running on the field. It was said the team looked like the tide was rolling in thus gaining the chant 'Roll Tide.'"

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    3. Love the origin of that nickname!

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  7. A true story of grit and determination from start to finish. Can you imagine many of today's leaders pushing to go to war?

    And those darned Long Lances. That was a crazy shot. Somebody rolled a '1' on their saving throw that day.

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    1. Impressive torpedo. Naval Academy has one on display, BIG suckers.

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  8. Fantastic tale that I'd not known about at all. Thanks Sarge!

    I've noticed that when referencing anything from Alabama, that guy Matt on "it's a southern thang" often says, with obvious conviction, "roll damme tide."

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  9. Has anyone read the book "The Castaway's War: One Man's Battle against Imperial Japan" by Stephen Harding?
    I saw it while doing some more searches about Hugh Miller, and it looks like Gold Circle had bought the movie rights for it back in 2016.

    On another note - in the earlier thread, I had mentioned my uncle who was on aerial recon in the Pacific. He had won a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska, as a running back, when war broke out; so he went to the recruiting office instead of to college. Funny how that football theme keeps cropping up.
    Frank

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    1. The book is available on Amazon, thinking seriously of getting it.

      Back then a lot of kids played football for the fun of the game, not to get into the NFL. Many of them were out and out patriots back then. There are some in these modern times who would fit right in back then. A lot though would not.

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    2. It used to be, even for kid's football, Academics First, Football Second. Now? Football First, Thuggery Second, Academics Third or lower...

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    3. If they even bother with academics. A degree in Undergraduate Achievements? Seriously?

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    4. They could specialize - like Underwater Basket Weaving, or other important things :)
      Frank

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    5. Well, as sonmeone who's wife specializes in basketry, actually, underwater basketweaving is not as easy as you think. Why? Because you have to hold your breath and the parts float away.

      Though making one in the summer while floating in the pool works really well. ")

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  10. Awesome story. Thank you Sir. Godspeed.

    And this is also great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_3D87uyaM4&feature=youtu.be

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)