More than two decades after his demise, Robert H. Miller Jr. of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was awarded the hero’s recognition he earned protecting the nation from German U-boats during World War II.
Last Saturday, the state CAP commander presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the late Miller’s son and one of his two daughters.
Miller flew hundreds of missions off the coast of the Carolinas and Texas and patrolled the Texas-Mexico border. He and his crew alerted the Navy of the presence of enemy submarines and, in at least two instances, dropped the single bomb they carried (covertly) on U-boats.
Miller flew long, dangerous missions as a volunteer. On one patrol, he and his crew were forced to ditch their plane in the Atlantic Ocean, spending a dark and potentially deadly night in the water until rescuers arrived the next day. A red duck patch in the shadowbox depicts that incident.
The pilot, who once described himself as a “hill-billy” from Welch, West Virginia, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College near Charlotte, spent more than a year looking for the enemy, often flying more than 60 miles offshore - out of sight of land - with no more than a compass, altimeter and a crude, tube-based radio. The patrols were lonely and fraught with trouble.
Local CAP members determined Miller earned the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014, ordered under then-President Barack Obama, but never received it.
The Brunswick chapter took flight to document Miller’s service and assemble a shadowbox, which also includes a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol. Then, the COVID-19 virus struck, delaying recognition until last week.
The Brunswick CAP chapter got involved with the Millers after making a presentation to the Winding River history group and learning he had a daughter, Vicki Duke, who lives there. His son, Robert Miller III, also resides in Supply. Miller’s late wife Martha lived in Brunswick County until health issues forced her to relocate back to Maryland, where the family lived after the war. Robert Miller was a clerk and logistics planner for railroad companies, including Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and CSX.
It’s hard to understate the threat Nazi subs posed along the East Coast during the early days of the war.
Local residents recall the almost-nightly attacks on merchant marine and fuel ships as “routine training missions.”
The government did not want to send residents into a panic, but the unbridled attack was far larger than acknowledged. Oil tankers, passenger ships and cargo vessels were targeted and in flames almost nightly, according to residents of the Carolinas coast.
Noted historian Kevin Duffis wrote:
“In 1942, more than 65 German U-boats waged a withering campaign along the nation’s eastern seaboard against Allied merchant vessels and their military defenders to disrupt or entirely sever transatlantic supply lines fueling the war effort in Europe.
“In just half a year, 397 ships were sunk. Nearly 5,000 people, including many civilians, were burned to death, crushed, drowned or vanished into the sea.
Miller flew headlong into an affray the government would not acknowledge.
After the war when the family lived in Maryland, Robert Miller was a clerk and logistics planner for railroad companies, including Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and CSX. He also continued flying.
His daughter Vicki said he had a dry sense of humor about his war service.
“He was a patient, kind, honest man,” she recalled. “It was not until his later years that he would tell the stories (of the war).
“Mostly, he was quiet and reserved.”
The local CAP stresses aerospace education, emergency service response and cadet training. It is the auxiliary arm of the U.S. Air Force. To learn more, visit https.//brunswickcounty.cap.gov.