Bio: Miller, Clarence (Army Veteran Service - 2014)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Wenthold, Miller, Kleve, Kessler

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 12/31/2014

Miller, Clarence (Army Veteran Service - 2014)

Neillsville Widow Receives Letters Written by Army Husband

Anita Miller listens intently as Paul Wenthold reads a letter sent by her husband Clarence Miller to Wenthold’s grandmother during Miller’s tour of duty with the U. S. Army in WWII. Wenthold recently discovered a box of letters written by Miller and presented the originals to Anita and her family Dec. 22 at t he Neillsville Retirement Community. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

By Todd Schmidt

A family reunion of sorts was held Dec. 22 at the Neillsville Retirement Community, as Paul Wenthold of West Lafayette, IN, met up with a few of his local relatives to deliver a collection of long-lost letters to Anita Miller, age 97.

Anita is the widow of Clarence Miller, who carried on a pen pal relationship during his service in WWII with Wenthold’s grandmother, Margaret (Kleve) Wenthold, who it turns-out was a first cousin to Miller’s mother, Louise (Kessler) Miller.

Wenthold found the letters included in a box of letters his father sent to his parents when he was stationed in Korea. Wenthold, who is a professor of chemistry at Purdue University, was intrigued by the situation.

“I wondered who Clarence Miller was and why he was corresponding with my grandmother,” Wenthold said. “I didn’t recognize the name, as Miller is not a common last name around the area of northeast Iowa where my grandma lived. My dad and my uncle Greg didn’t know either.

Wenthold discerned some important clues in the letters themselves. He determined he was from Neillsville, and that he had to brothers, Bill and James, and a sister, Jeanette. From that information he found Jeanette’s obituary notice, which provided full details of the family. He then began filling branches on the family tree.

“My grandmother was a kind-hearted soul and a strong supporter of men in the service,” Wenthold said. “She heard her cousin’s son was in the Army and started writing to him. And she just didn’t send him letters. We know from his letters that they also sent him care packages, including cookies. They corresponded for nearly three years while he was in the service.”

Anita said she married Clarence after WWII ended.

Clarence Miller served with the U. S. Army 535th
AAA Automatic Weapons BN during WWII
(Contributed photo)

“It is very interesting how they sent letters back and forth,” Anita said. “It is such a surprise. We weren’t aware of any of this.”

Miller’s letters tell a very interesting tale of his life before and during WWII. His Army unit, the 535th AAA Automatic Weapons BN, traveled throughout Europe. The unit landed at Utah Beach on D-Day and was part of the Battle of the Bulge.

“From a historical perspective, reading letters from someone who actually participated in the Battle of the Bulge was absolutely fascinating,” Wenthold said.

His early letters don’t speak much about those events, partly due to the censorship process. Some of the envelopes are stamped “Passed by Army Examiner.” Miller could never really say where he was until after the war ended.

His unit passed through Adolf Hitler’s summer home just outside Berchtesgaden after the war ended. Miller connected with his brother James, who just happened to be passing through with another unit.

“He does describe life after the German surrender and interactions with the German people,” Wenthold said. “Most of his letters focus on more personal issues, including family.”

Anita and her family brought out a map that showed Miller’s routing of military stations during his tour of duty.

PFC Clarence Miller poses against an airplane at an airfield in Europe during WWII. As a gunner trained to shoot down enemy aircraft, Miller and other members of his Army unit were required to know the styles and markings of all airplanes, both friend and foe. (Contributed photo)

His Army unit landed in Scotland and traveled to England. Then it participated in the D-Day assault at Utah Beach in France. Miller’s unit was surrounded for several days. He said 13 German planes were shot down.

“Half of their fliers never got out of their burning planes,” Miller wrote. “It was an awful way to die, but they shot a lot of our planes down. People will never know how much we lost. It was plenty in men and supplies, but thank God it is all over now.”

Miller’s unit advanced to northern France to protect the 1st Army airfield, bridges and supply dumps. The unit entered Paris Aug. 31, 1944.

The 535th moved on through Belgium and Luxembourg to Germany, joining the 1st BN on the front. Missions included shooting down buzz bombs and enemy aircraft.

At one point in the Ardennes Forest, German tanks over-ran some American troops. Miller and his unit helped stem the Luftwaffe’s biggest attacks.

Reinforcements from the 99th military unit joined the conflict on the march to the Remagen Bridgehead. They crossed the Danube River and moved on to the Ruhr Pocket, joining the 3rd Army Brigade. At the point in central Europe they celebrated VE day.

Wenthold read excerpts from Miller’s letters, prompting family members to reminisce about Miller’s life.

“I am OK, but still busy taking care of these Germans,” Miller wrote May 26, 1945. “You have to watch them and check their passes. They aren’t supposed to travel unless they have a pass from our military government. Several Nazi leaders have been caught in civilian clothing. Some seem to think Hitler is dead, but I don’t. I may be wrong, but it seems funny that his body was never really found. One of the bodies that were supposed to have been him turned out to be his cook. So no one is sure that he is dead. But time will tell.”

Miller wrote another letter July 13, 1945. He was stationed at LaHarve, France, located about 30 miles from the Utah Beach invasion point. He makes some pointed observations about the French and German people.

“People back here don’t treat us like they did when we landed here before,” Miller wrote. “I guess they have forgotten what we have done for them and how many of our buddies died to make them free. Now they try to rob us on whatever we want to buy.”

Miller writes about how good the German people were, doing washing and pressing for the soldiers.

“I don’t know if they wanted to get on the good side of us or not, but I do know they were scared when we first got there,” Miller wrote. They would come up to us crying. We asked them what they were crying about, and they told us that they were told by the Nazi soldiers that we would cut their heads off or shoot them.”

In Miller’s opinion, the U. S. soldiers were too easy on the Nazi SS troops. “We are doing some work with them, but not enough for what they have done to the prisoners they were keeping just to starve them to death and work them until they couldn’t work anymore,” Miller wrote.

Family members said Miller left home at age 15 to go to work on a farm. He started hauling can milk, using a sleigh when there was a lot of snow to maneuver through. Miller also drove truck, hauling corn from Iowa.

After his enlistment in the Army, successful tour of duty and honorable discharge, he returned to the Neillsville area to engage in farming. Miller then began working for the Clark County Forestry Department. He advanced to a job with the Clark County Highway Department, doing road maintenance as a patrolman. He passed away a few short years after his retirement.

Anita recalled visiting Paris to attend the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Wenthold said this project fueled his passion for genealogy. Through his newfound connections, he was able to trace his family history back to 1797 in Westphalia, Germany.



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