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Lincoln VA Clinic Honors World War II Veteran

Irving and the Lincoln VA Clinic staff at his 100th birthday celebration
Irving and the Lincoln VA Clinic staff at his 100th birthday celebration

According to the National WWII Museum, less than 120,000 of the 16.1 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive in 2023. That is less than 1%.

Father and Naval Veteran Irving Robert Miller, who recently celebrated his centennial, is among that group of brave men and women.

To mark the milestone, on Dec. 6 the Lincoln VA Clinic held a celebration.

Joining the service was not an impulsive decision for Miller, something he spoke about in a journal he kept at the time and is in the process of digitally transcribing. 

Miller’s journey started at a young age, when he decided to join the Junior Naval Reserve at 13-years-old.

“When a lot of boys joined the Boy Scouts, in 1936 … I joined the ‘Junior Naval Reserve,’” he said.

After his father signed him up, Miller joined the Navy in 1941 and described the moment as “wonderful.”

He participated in bootcamp in Rhode Island, and enjoyed being instructed and following orders. 

Arriving in Newport for training, he was excited to start his journey. One of his first memories upon arriving was being lined up, read the Riot Act and marched to a physical to receive shots and a haircut.

His feeling of excitement, however, was not shared with all of his fellow recruits - some of whom he described as “grumpy,” “dissatisfied,” and “unhappy.” 

After three months of drills, gun practice and learning about the Navy, Irving spent time on the USS Constellation, where he slept in hammocks and constantly hit his head on beams in the low ceiling.

Miller was first sent to sea on May 19, 1941 aboard the USS Wyoming BB-32.

“I thought I was given the worst job on the ship, Captain of the Petty Officers Head,” Miller wrote, noting it simply meant the bathroom. “To my surprise, the showers were fresh water, and I could take a fresh water shower every day.” 

All the other enlisted seamen on the USS Wyoming were given a bucket of seawater to clean themselves.

“You never felt clean [using seawater],” he said. 

He went on to serve on 11 ships, fought in nine battles, including an invasion of southern France (earning a Navy Commendation Medal) and Iwo Jima, and served in two squadrons.

“Every time I got transferred to another ship I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said, admitting he didn’t want to leave his first job on the USS Wyoming BB-32 simply because of the access to a real shower.

While in southern France, Miller was put in charge of directing planes while on a flight deck.

“When we began getting ready to start the invasion of southern France, the Admiral kneeled down to me,” he said. “’Hey Miller, are we going to get all these planes off in 15 minutes? 

“…I just yelled back, ‘What’s the extra 5 minutes for?

“I thought the Admiral would laugh so hard I thought he would fall off the bridge.”

Miller was honorably discharged in January 1947 with the rank of Third Class Petty Officer at 23-years-old, and confessed that he was slightly disappointed at the revelation the Navy was discharging him because he had hoped to be going to Officer Candidate School, something he was looking forward to. 

“I thought [joining the Navy] was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I was full of mischief as a young boy, as most boys are, and I think that the Navy gave me a direction.” 

Originally hesitant to talk about it, Miller didn’t discuss his time in the service, but after requesting his service records, he started writing about his time in the Navy, noting that he never spoke about the war until after his wife passed so “[people] know what freedom costs and … what part [he] played in keeping this country safe.”

“I got to seven pages and I thought, ‘That’s the whole thing,’” he said. “And then I called my son [Steven, who at the time had Irving’s diaries] in Hawaii and said I’ve never done this before, I’d like to send this to you and see if you can make changes and make it sound like something.”

Wanting to help spark Irving’s memories of his time serving and elaborate on his stories, Steven returned Irving’s diaries, and to this day Irving continues the project.

“I have so many short stories, whether it’s the pilots that told me or the captain of the ship [making an] announcement over the speaker or the newspaper on the ship telling it,” Irving said. 

Irving, who is in the process of digitally transcribing his work and adding more detail through his old diaries, dedicated his work to his children. 

After leaving, he joined Republic Aviation in their experimental department, before later taking a job as a manager at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods.

“As I stuck my head in the door [only to say hi to his nephew, who worked there] there’s this lady whose sitting behind the desk, [she] said to me, ‘Are you here for the manager’s job?” he said.

“And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And for the next 25 years I had the most wonderful job anyone would ever want.”

When Irving opened the door following his appointment in early December, he noticed staff from the clinic were waiting for him.

“They came in and sang Happy Birthday to me and they had a cake with my name on it,” he said.

“I stood there with my mouth open and I couldn’t believe what was going on,” he said.

He said the party left him feeling like he was on top of the world.

Irving’s biggest wish during the birthday surprise was for everyone present to have a piece of the cake.

Both Irving and Steven live in Millinocket.