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Long wait for benefits may end for ex-soldier

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson 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 benefits.

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 incident.

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."

Story Copyright © 2000-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson City Press,
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
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47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
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