Long wait for benefits may end for ex-soldier
By Vincent Z. Whaley
City Press Staff Writer
(PUBLISHED Friday, March 31, 2000)
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. When an earthquake
hit southern Japan on Saturday, Dec. 21, 1946,
Pfc. Horace E. Miller was standing guard beside
a 10-story building that would become his home
for the next four days.
The building came crashing down on Miller, burying
him beneath 10 feet of brick and concrete, crushing
the majority of his body. Since his hearing
was dwindling and his vocal cords were permanently
damaged, Miller could not hear three Britsh
soldiers attempting to rescue him, nor could
he call out for help.
On Christmas Day, the soldiers had finally removed
enough rubble with their hands to rescue Miller
from the felled building he had been guarding
at Johnson Army Air Base at Irumagawa on the
Japanese island of Honshu.
"I couldn't hear or talk, and I didn't
know what was going on," said the 73-year-old
Johnson City resident, who didn't begin regaining
his voice until 1996. "My helmet had come
off, my head was bleeding, I couldn't move a
bone in my body and I kept experiencing blackouts.
"Every morning, I still wake up scared
to death with flashbacks, and it takes me a
minute to get my bearings."
The earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter
scale was followed by six tidal waves.
More than 60,000 square miles of southern Japan
were ruined, more than 1,000 people were killed
and 100,000 were left homeless.
Following his rescue, Miller spent the next
year and a half in military hospitals in Japan
and the United States, but he said doctors were
unsure how to treat his injuries.
"It took 27 days to sail on the ship from
Japan to San Francisco," he said. "They
threw the morphine to me all the time, because
they didn't know what to do for me. The doctors
gave me so many pain pills through the years
that I now have ulcers. After I was discharged
from the Army, I underwent more years of medical
treatment, but have never been the same."
Today, Miller resembles many World War II veterans.
He relies mainly on Social Security to make
ends meet, his health is extremely poor and
the government has given him little to no help.
The Department of Veterans Affairs told Miller
his service records were lost during the war
and he was not entitled to full service-connected
With pressure from Johnson City attorney Scott
Pratt and Rep. Bill Jenkins, R-1st, the Army
Environmental Services Unit recently located
Miller's military records. The records verify
Miller was serving with the 314th Composite
Wing, 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron,
5th Air Force, when the earthquake hit southern
Japan. The documents also state he received
medical treatment resulting from a line-of-duty
While Miller still has not received his military
benefits, Pratt says the government now does
not have a choice in the matter.
"That building crushed him and he could
not communicate for years," Pratt said.
"He has had severe emotional and physical
problems and slipped through the cracks of the
VA with no benefits. (Miller) came to see me
two years ago, and we have been working ever
since to get his full benefits. The Department
of Veterans Affairs regional office in Roanoke,
Va., keeps bypassing us, and you can't even
talk to a human being up there. But now that
we have his official military records, there
will be no question that he is entitled to his
benefits from the VA."
Although the past several years have been filled
with pain and anquish for Miller, he remains
optimistic the government will acknowledge his
sacrifices during the war and reward him for
his time of duty.
"I guess they couldn't keep up with everything
since many guys were getting killed and dying
and the units were moving all over the place
back then," Miller said. "But I was
only 18 years old at that time and never thought
about being disabled for the rest of my life."
© 2000-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605,
All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.