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WW II Vet Recalls Battles in Pacific, First Use of Radar

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2004 – With the dedication of the National World War II Memorial here, the Memorial Day weekend has brought much overdue attention to the men and women whose efforts helped to win the war in two theaters of combat.

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The Miller family flew to the Washington area from California to attend the dedication of the National World War II Memorial. From left to right are, Page Miller, Dr. Warburton Miller, Dr. Joyce Miller, Dr. Pamela Miller and her husband, Navy Cmdr. Joel Rothschild. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Warburton Miller was revved up to help win the war in the Pacific during World War II, but when he read newspaper accounts he didn't know if he'd get the chance. "I was scared to death the war was going to be over before I got out there to fight," the 82-year-old retired Naval Reserve captain said.

But it was a different story when he got there. The United States was a long way from winning, and the war was a long way from being over, he said.

"When I went out into the Pacific during the Guadalcanal Campaign, we were not winning the war," said Miller. "(The Japanese) were sinking our ships and shooting our planes down."

The six-month long Guadalcanal Campaign between August 1942 and February 1943 was a brutally hard air-sea-land campaign against the Japanese for the possession of the island of Guadalcanal. It was the first major offensive action of the Pacific War for the United States and its Pacific allies.

Miller also fought in the Bismarck Archipelago Campaign, which was fought from Dec. 15, 1943, to Nov. 27, 1944. The goal was to capture several islands, including New Britain, New Ireland and the Admiralties in the World War II Pacific Theater. It was necessary to capture these islands off the New Guinea coast before Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur could keep his promise to return to the Philippines.

Miller remembers seeing a torpedo heading directly for his destroyer, the USS Saufley, to but his surprise and relief, it went under the ship. "You could see torpedoes coming through the water, because they leave a stream of air," he noted. Even with that close call, Miller maintained, "I was never scared, even when people were killed on both sides of me."

Navigational charts of the area that had been made by the Germans and British during the 1800s, Miller said, often were off by as much as five miles. "Very few coral reefs were noted in an area that was heavily landscaped with reefs," he noted. "It appeared to the men fighting the war that the Japanese were winning.

"One of the turning developments that contributed to our ultimately winning the war in the Pacific was the use of radar," said Miller, who was in charge of security aboard the USS Saufley during the Guadalcanal Campaign. "Most senior naval officers didn't trust or fully use radar at the beginning of the war."

Miller, a graduate of the Navy's sonar and radar schools, said his squadron was one of the first to use radar effectively. "I was one of the few officers who were trained in the tactical use of radar and its implementation in modern naval warfare," said Miller, a clinical psychologist who owns the Warburton House in Highland, Calif., along with his wife, Dr. Joyce Miller, who also is a psychologist.

"Our destroyer was the first two squadrons of destroyers that had complete radars the air search as well as the ground radars," the doctor noted. "Those radars were not like radars today; they picked up everything. So there was a lot of interpretation that had to be done.

"Just like most people in my age group are fearful of computers," he continued, "the senior Navy people didn't understand and were fearful of the radar, because the identification systems didn't always work."

For example, he said, in the fall of 1943 during the Bismarck Archipelago Campaign, his ship's gunnery crew shot down an American scout plane near the Solomon Islands.

"The guy didn't turn on his IFF, which is the information friend or foe," the retired captain noted. "We were 300 miles inside enemy lines in the middle of the night, and we couldn't see him, except that he was a plane.

"I met the pilot later at Espirito Santos (an island in the Sea of Cortez), and fortunately we didn't kill him," Miller said. "They sent (patrol torpedo) boats and towed the plane back about 300 miles the next day. Those things happen. There's a lot of hullabaloo about it now, but you do, unfortunately, shoot at your friend."

In the summer of 1944 during the Bismarck Archipelago Campaign, Miller was responsible for tracking friendly and unfriendly aircraft and ships and directing U.S. planes in achieving their missions.

"Due to our direct use of the radar systems, the U.S. effectiveness in fighting the Japanese increased monthly," he said. "This was a key factor in obtaining control of the airspace over the Solomon Islands."

Radar technology at the time made it possible to tell the direction, but not the altitude of aircraft, Miller said, but radar was a key factor in detection of aircraft and in directing the pilots.

"This new technology was combined with the observational skills of each pilot to bring about a successful mission," he noted. "As the war went on, things got better and better."

Miller said sea battles seemed oddly familiar. "You could see the dive bomber pilot's face and eyes, the guns spitting out bullets, and hear them hitting the ship," he recalled. "I got a strange feeling during my first fights. I said, 'My gosh, this is just like in the movies.' Of course, the results are a little different.

"One night we took quite a serious hit, and the doctor was wounded," he said. "He was on the bridge watching the fireworks instead of being down where he was supposed to be in the wardroom, which was the center for casualties. So when we needed him most, he wasn't there. Some of the other officers tried to take care of patients while the doctor told them what to do, Miller said. "He went ashore when we got back and a couple of weeks later we heard that he'd died," he added.

Miller, who spent about 14 months in the war zone, said fighting wasn't always a dive-bomber jumping out at the ship. "A lot of the fighting was shelling the beach and they'd shell back," he noted. "I don't think a shell coming from the beach ever hit us; it was all from airplanes."

Recalling his ship's contributions to driving the Japanese out of the Pacific, Miller said the Saufley shot down five Japanese planes and sunk one and a half submarines. When two ships sank a sub, they each got a half credit.

"We also had about 15 bombardments and about seven landings," he said. "A lot of the landings were unopposed or opposed lightly at the beginning. They landed where there weren't a lot of Japanese troops. But within 24 hours, the Japanese troops would get organized."

Released from active duty in June 1946, Miller joined the Naval Reserve and used the GI Bill to get his master's degree and later a doctorate.

He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, served as the senior watch officer aboard the carrier USS Salerno Bay, and was promoted to lieutenant commander. "We chased Russian submarines, keeping track of them throughout the Atlantic," he said. "I'm sure the Navy still has a policy of keeping track of any potential enemy ship."

Miller said his wartime experiences changed his outlook on life. "My life was never the same again," he said. "I met my wife in Florida, and she was from Indiana, and we moved to California. Both of our lives were completely changed. That's probably true for anybody in our age group.

"Staying the Navy Reserves has been wonderful to me and for me," Miller said. "You probably can tell that I'm just sold on the Navy.

"Of all the time I was in the Navy I only one duty that wasn't very comfortable," he noted. "It was good duty, but the living conditions were not good. I was at sea, and my wife was very unhappy. We were in Norfolk (Va.), where they used to have signs on the grass that said, 'Dogs and sailors stay off the grass.'"

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National World War II Memorial

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWorld War II veteran Dr. Warburton Miller said his wartime experiences changed his life forever. A retired Navy Reserve captain, he also said the Navy was good to him and for him. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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