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A Woodbury woman in war

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It was in the summer of 1943 that Helen Miller, previously Helen Platten, boarded the Queen Mary, which was bound for Europe.

Miller, 94, was a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, as a private first class, and she was being shipped overseas.

"As we were going out of the New York harbor, you could see the Statue of Liberty there, and this gal said 'Isn't that something, it's really beautiful to see that going away,'" Miller said, "but I said "I think it will be much more beautiful when we see it coming towards us.'"

Miller served with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, which would eventually become the Women's Army Corps, for just shy of three years, which helped make her one of the subjects of a documentary,broadcast by Twin Cities PBS titled "Women Serving in War."

"Women Serving in War" received a regional Emmy in 2015 for best military documentary.

"It was a real honor," Miller said.

In "Women Serving in War" three generations of Minnesota's military women share their stories of service from World War II to Vietnam to Afghanistan.The documentary was produced by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.

"There were calls of thanks that came in after that," said Margaret Wachholz of Woodbury Senior Living. "Helent probably didn't realize that she was going to be a trailblazer."

Joining up

Miller joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in January of 1943, just after turning 21 years old.

"All the good guys were gone," she said, "so I was going to get in there and help get the war over so I could find a good guy."

Miller and a friend headed to the armory building in Minneapolis and enlisted on Jan. 10, 1943. They were among more than 150,000 American women who would eventually end up in uniform.

Miller's first assignment, after going through basic training in Iowa, was at the Columbus Army Air Base in Mississippi, where she worked in the records office.

One day Miller's commanding officer summoned her and another woman one day and told them that one of them was needed for duty overseas.

"I looked at the gal that was there and she looked white as a sheet," Miller said, "like she didn't want to leave. So I said I can see she doesn't want to go, so I'll go.

"My mother told me not to volunteer, and I didn't exactly, but that was just how it ended up."

After going through overseas training in Georgia, Miller boarded the Queen Mary, bound for the British Isles, in the summer of 1943.

"I didn't know where I was going, but we ended up at flight command headquarters," she said. "But, didn't realize what I was going to see — I was right in the heart of war."

Miller was stationed at the Army Air 8th Fighter Command Headquarters in Bushy Herts County, England, where she helped plot the position of bomber and fighter missions into Europe on a large, room-sized map while high-ranking officers watched from the balcony above.

"That was a very good place to go because it was very interesting." she said. "We would be working in the combat operations building and we were to know all the targets for the day, the number of the planes that took off each day and the number of planes that didn't return — we couldn't talk to anybody about what was happening."

While Miller was in England, the Germans began attacking Britain with V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets.

"We were right in the pathway of the two rockets that were going over and blowing up ," she said.

Miller was discharged from the Women's Army Corps On Aug. 31, 1945 after serving in the military for two years, seven months and 22 days.

"Usually I just say three years," she said.

Back home

After returning to St. Paul, Miller went to work at a veterans information center, helping ex-servicemen adjust to civilian life.

"I was sort of at loose ends and I didn't know what I wanted to do," she said. "They offered this to me and it seemed like a good way to start."

One day at work Miller came face-to-face with an old boyfriend, who broke up with her before she enlisted.

"I met this nice guy and I really liked him," she said, "but something happened and he thought I was kind of a big flirt and that was the end of that."

However, when Miller reconnected with her old flame, who had gone on to join the United States Navy, she began to remember something a palm reader in Europe had told her.

"She told me I was going to marry someone that I had gone with before," she said, "so I thought he's not getting away this time."

The two were married three months later.

Miller eventually raised two sons; one served in the Navy and the other served in the Army. After her first husband died at 57, she remarried.

All these years later Miller still remembers her time in the Women's Army Corps, and how it changed her life for the better.

"The military made me pretty independent because I had to do things all on my own," she said. "Everything was so new for a 21-year-old who never went further than Miller, South Dakota."

You can stay in touch with Helen Miller with her blog, "Helen's Corner," which can be found at faceagingmn.org/category/general/spotlight/helens-corner.

Visit woodburybulletin.com for a snipped of Helen Miller in "Women Serving in War."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

(651) 702-0976
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