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Capt. John H. Miller

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Captain John H. Miller
Hanks
Rank Captain
Affiliations United States Army 2nd Rangers Battalion, Company C
Birth Pennsylvania, approx. 1910
Death June 15, 1944
Weapon Thompson Sub-machine Gun and Colt .45 pistol

Captain John H. Miller was a thirty year old American serving in the 2nd Rangers Battalion of the United States Army during World War Two. He held the rank of Captain. He was portrayed by actor Tom Hanks.

Biography

Before the War

Miller would not tell much about his life prior to World War II. Before joining the Army, John Miller had been employed at Thomas Alva Edison High School in Addley, Pennsylvania. He then taught English composition since 1933. Miller was married and was also the coach of the local baseball team in the Spring. Miller and Upham had an agreement to let a bet the whole company made go to $500 before Miller would tell Upham about life before the war so the two could split the reward and not $1000 as Upham suggested.

The Second World War

After joining the US Army Rangers in 1942, Miller served in Tunisia, Africa and was involved in the battle of Kasserine Pass in 1942/43. That is where he first met Sergeant Mike Horvath, an honest and dependable soldier and friend. The two would serve together during Operation Torch, the Allied landings at Anzio, Italy in 1943, in Sicily. Transferring to the 2nd Ranger Battalion, Miller and Horvath next prepared for the assault on Hitler's vaunted Atlantic Wall defenses as part of Operation Overlord. This would be his last major scales battle.

Miller was somewhat of a mystery to his men, who were so intrigued by their commanding officer that they set up a betting pool to reward whomever could find out details about Miller's civilian life. Just before the Rangers embarked at Portsmouth, England, Miller's right hand began to shake uncontrollably for unknown reasons. He kept this a secret from his men except from Horvath.

D-Day

On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Miller led Company C of the 2nd Ranger Battalion onto Omaha Beach in France. He started in an LCM like all the other soldiers he bagan to give his men orders after the coxswain told them to clear the ramp. Miller's men suffered high casualties during the attack, including fellow soldier Private Delancey and officer Lieutenant Briggs, but the German defenses were too weak to hold off the flow of American soldiers and equipment.

The Rangers conducted numerous operations for the next few days, and on June 9th Miller was given a special mission by Lt. Col Anderson to retrieve a 101st Airborne paratrooper, Private James Francis Ryan, whose three brothers had been recently killed in combat. He picked a squad of eight men from his Company, Charlie. Those he chose were Horvath, Reiben, Jackson, Mellish (though it would have been a soldier by the name Talbot but he was killed not long before Miller had accepted the mission), Caparzo, together with Corporal Upham of the 29th Infantry Division, and finally Medic Wade, Miller and his men set out for Neuville to search for Ryan.

Search for Ryan

Shortly after arriving in Neuville, Miller and his men came across 101st Airborne troopers who were engaged in a firefight with Wehrmacht soldiers. After detouring through the town, the team comes across a family of civilians. Private Adrian Caparzo attempts to take a young girl to safety, begging Miller to allow it because she reminded him of his niece back home. The Captain refused and took the girl off of him and order Mike to "take this goddam kid". However, Caparzo was then shot and killed by a German sniper whom Private Daniel Jackson soon kills. He takes Caparzo's dog tags stating "That's why we can't take children". The team then continues to trot through the rainy town, where they encounter another group of Airborne troopers.

After a case of mistaken identity involving a 101st Airborne soldier with a name similar to Ryan's, Miller learned of Ryan's rally point from a fellow paratrooper. The squad settled down in an abandoned church for a few hours of rest, and Miller revealed to Horvath his method of justifying his actions—that those lives lost under his command would save the lives of others. Miller had lost 94 men under his command (zone of them being a soldier called Vecchio), and the stress of combat could be seen in his trembling hand.

Making their way to the rally point, Miller and his squad found a field into which numerous gliders had landed or crashed. They met a soldier called Lieutenant Dewindt. He told them what happened to him on D-day and then gave miller a bag of dog tags to search through. Miller forgot how inhuman he was being by looking through the tags and not caring that they were dead people who's friends and allies were walking past listening disgracefully. He realised this when Wade interrupted them and ordered them to put the tags back in the bag. He looked shameful as he watched the patrol walk on.

They later found a 101st Airborne paratrooper in the patrol who had known Ryan, and indicated that Ryan had set out with a mixed unit to defend a bridge at Ramelle. Continuing the search, the squad next encountered a German machine gun emplacement. Miller's men were reluctant to attack the position, but Miller was steadfast and set on destroying it in spite of the risk. T-4 Medic Irwin Wade was killed by an MG42 during the attack, and a lone German soldier was taken prisoner. Although affected by Wade's death, Miller was forced to let the German go in the hope that he would be picked up by advancing Allied forces.

The release of the prisoner was too much for Private Richard Reiben, who turned on Miller and refused to continue with the mission. Horvath quickly intervened and threatened to shoot Reiben. This got Jackson to threaten to shoot Horvath causing chaos as the rest of Miller's men started to shout at him to do something and how the mission was pointless. With that, Miller surprised everyone by suddenly revealing his home town and civilian occupation. Opening up to his men for the first time, Miller made it clear that he followed orders from his superiors in order to expedite his own return home to his wife, and that every soldier that died under his command made that goal more distant. Reiben silently rejoined the squad, and after Wade's burial they proceeded on to Ramelle.

SavingP Ryan

Miller, Ryan, and Reiben, as they prepare to engage German troops.

Battle at Ramelle

Private Ryan was finally found outside of Ramelle on June 13th. After returning to the village, Miller spoke with Ryan and told him of the deaths of his brothers. Surprisingly, Ryan refused to leave with the Rangers, and made it clear that he intended to stay with his unit and defend Ramelle's bridge against an expected German attack. The small unit of paratroopers in Ramelle had very few weapons, and Miller, the ranking officer, decided to stand with them and prepare a suitable defense. As a fallback position, a bombed-out structure on the opposite bank of the Merderet River was designated as "The Alamo," from which explosives planted around the bridge could be detonated if the Germans could not be stopped. Once the Germans attacked the Rangers and paratroopers were able to fight on the move, but were soon overwhelmed by the numerical superiority and equipment of the Germans.
Spr38

Miller takes shelter in a crater during the battle at Ramelle

The survivors retreated across the bridge to The Alamo, but Captain Miller was knocked to the ground by the blast of a German Tiger Tank shell. The detonation device for the explosives had been knocked out of his hands, and as he moved across the bridge to retrieve it, Miller was shot in the chest. The shot had come from the opposite bank and had been fired by the same German soldier that Miller had set free earlier.

Although the Germans were soon driven off by U.S. air and ground reinforcements, with P-51s and M4 Shermans. Miller was fatally wounded. Most of Miller's men had also been killed. As Reiben sought aid for his dying captain, Miller's last words to Ryan were, "James, earn this. Earn it." With those words Captain Miller passed away, the tremble in his hand finally stilled.

Visited By Ryan

Decades later in June of 1998, an elderly James Ryan visited Miller's grave at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. Ryan sought approval from his wife in the hope that he had lived up to the sacrifice made by Miller and his men.

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