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Posted on Sat. Jun. 28, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

From the archives: Marine recalls bloody European march

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World War I facts

* The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the number of living World War I veterans at 30,000 with a median age of 95.

* An average of 25 WWI veterans die each day.

* About 1,400 living WWI veterans are women.

* 4.7 million American military personnel served in WWI. 116,500 died in service. 200,000 service personnel were wounded in action.

GUESTS OF HONOR

On Nov. 11, the 75th anniversary of the armistice which ended World War I, area veterans will receive a commemorative medal from the Department of Defense and the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation. The medals will be presented at a ceremony at 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Fort Wayne VA Medical Center. The Allen County veterans to be honored include:

* Charles L. Barkley: Army, May 14, 1917 to Feb. 19, 1920

* Sampson C. Doty: Army, Dec. 12, 1917 to May 28, 1919

* Elton F. Wilson: Army, March 29, 1918 to June 4, 1919

* William Brosler: Air Force, Nov. 17, 1917 to May 29, 1919

* Eldon B. Crawford: Army, Dec. 8, 1917 to Sept. 19, 1919

* Clifford A. Funk: Ohio National Guard (fought in France with special unit), July 17, 1917 to Sept. 19, 1919

* Alpha C. Miller: Marine Corps, July 1918 to Aug. 1919

* Franklin T. Rhodes: Air Force, Nov. 17, 1917 to May 29, 1919

* Homer A. Slifer: SATC officer training, Oct. 1, 1918 to Dec. 21, 1918

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This was originally published November 10, 1993.

More than 75 years after he dragged his bloody feet across the fields of France, Alpha Miller hasn't lost his patriotic spark.

''Whenever I hear that marching tune of Sousa's (Stars and Stripes Forever), chills go up my spine," he said.

Miller, 97, is one of an estimated 30,000 living American veterans of World War I.

To honor the 75th anniversary of the Nov. 11 armistice, which ended the war, the Department of Defense is mailing out commemorative medals to all living vets.

Miller, who lives on Griffin Road, still remembers the war-torn days of his youth.

Miller's father had died when he was 13, and he had been farming, digging ditches and hauling gravel in Lafayette to support his mother and two young brothers when the war broke out. He enlisted in the Marines at age 22.

''I wanted to be a hero, I guess," he said.

During Miller's time in the Marines, the government helped support his family and he sent home half his $30 monthly salary.

After training in Parris Island, S.C., Miller joined a boatload of Army and Marine troops that sailed from Hoboken, N.J. to Brest, France.

Miller vividly remembers his first days living on a rain-soaked French beach.

''It was raining. We slept in the mud. We all had blankets, but they all got wet. It was miserable," he said.

After a week they were put on freight trains headed for the front.

The train ride ended in Verdun where the tracks had been torn up by battle. Miller and his comrades began a weeklong march to the German border. The experience is one he won't soon forget.

''My feet blistered the first day," he said. "Every step was torture."

Despite the pain, Miller said he never considered stopping. "That's not the way Marines do it," he said, and chuckled.

Living on military rations of crackers and hard candy, the troops found real nourishment wherever they could. At one point, Miller ate a raw turnip he grabbed off a Belgian farmer's cart. "It tasted good, though," he said.

They never did make it to the front. In the midst of their march, the troops heard that the armistice had been signed on Nov. 11, 1918.

The news, Miller said, wasn't exactly cause for celebration.

''We didn't feel like celebrating in bloody feet," he said.

The war was officially over, but the troops marched on, crossing the Rhine River in Germany on Dec. 12 and settling down for the winter in a small German town. With the war over, Miller and the troops stayed through summer 1919, training, cleaning up and waiting to be shipped home.

After a pair of ticker-tape parades in New York and Washington, D.C., Miller returned to Lafayette in August 1919. He moved to Fort Wayne in 1922 to work as a welder for General Electric.

In 1955, he became a real estate broker, and his two sons Jerry and Louis joined him in the family business.

Long since retired at age 97, Miller said the secrets of long life aren't really secrets. He credits his longevity to daily doses of vitamin E and a series of "Swedish stretching exercises" he learned at Parris Island.


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