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Remembering a Golden Age
updated: Nov 17, 2012, 2:00 PM

By Montgomery Miller

I recently found this photo of my father JP Miller in his Navy uniform standing with his mother Rose Jetta, just before shipping out to fight in the South Pacific during WWII. Several years ago I published a story that included recollections of some of the fighting he saw and I would like to share an excerpt from that story with the Edhat community. Here is the excerpt:

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The war in the south pacific had begun to turn in favor of the allies. United States Navy Lt. Commander James P. Miller sat, feet strapped in, nervously at his anti-aircraft gun, waiting for the next wave of Japanese suicide planes to attack. Men scurried about high above on the flight deck, recovering aircraft and preparing to launch more. The date was October 30th, 1944 and the Belleau Wood was patrolling with her task group east of Leyte. The ship had been named for a location near Chateau Thierry, France, where U.S. Marines had fought a fierce battle in World War I, on June 6, 1918.

Memories of his life as a young boy, growing up in west Texas, flickered briefly through his mind. The Great Depression had been particularly hard on the cattle ranchers and dirt farmers of the panhandle region. Earning a living had been about as tough as the baked earth that stretched across the parched landscape. At the age of seventeen he'd been a "barn" boxer, fighting in small west Texas towns under the name Tex Frontier. After joining the Navy, he'd lost his two front teeth in a prizefight to a better fighter and decided he would pursue a different career.

The Belleau Wood and her crew had played a key role in the Battle of Cape EngaƱo, occurring between the 24th and 26th of October. The high-pitched whine of the Japanese suicide plane could be heard as it approached the carrier group. Suddenly, the clamor of men and equipment was punctuated by the sound of anti-aircraft guns pumping shells into the air. Men were yelling and the familiar whizzing sound of machine gun fire from the attacking plane as it approached the ship arrived with unexpected closeness. The Japanese pilot began the final plunge towards the ship. Moments before impact, the plane exploded into a million flaming pieces, which fell on her flight deck aft, causing fires and setting off ammunition.

As men dove for cover to avoid the showering bits of molten debris and flesh mincing engine and prop parts strewn across the flight deck, one man scrambled off the edge of the deck, plunging two stories onto the back of the unsuspecting gunnery officer, James P. Miller, spinning him completely around and breaking both of his legs at the knees. Before the holocaust could be brought under control, 92 men were killed or missing. Thus ended Miller's effort to help win the war in the South Pacific.

In October of 1958, Playhouse 90 broadcast the live presentation of JP Miller's unforgettable drama Days of Wine and Roses, the original version, starring the late Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie.

The title of that drama, produced from Miller's screenplay in 1962 into a motion picture starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, was taken from the following poem:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream

Ernest Dowson 1867-1900

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