He entered World War II at 19, enlisting in the U.S. Navy.
By the time he left the military, in 1959, Bill Miller had served in two wars and earned three prestigious military service awards, including the Purple Heart.
Miller, 86, lives with his wife, Rosemary, in unincorporated Mill Creek.
His idea of service work these days is to volunteer with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1040 in Lynnwood and with the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell.
“He’s a very conscientious person,” said George Janecke, chaplain for the VFW post. “He’s very modest. He feels very proud about what he’d done, though.”
Miller began his first tour of duty in 1943, working with the Hospital Corps at a hospital in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, where he tended to military patients suffering from spinal meningitis.
After two years there, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he worked in a dispensary, similar to a small hospital.
“Cuba was very hot and dry and the area outside the base very poor, much more so than Trinidad,” Miller wrote in an essay about his war experiences.
After a few months in Cuba, Miller was reassigned to stations in the United States until 1947, when he was discharged.
After the war, he went to college, attending the University of Wyoming.
To supplement his pay, he re-enlisted with the Navy Reserve. In 1950, all reserve corpsmen were called up to serve with the Fleet Marine Force, part of the Navy, and Miller soon saw duty again, this time as a field medic on the front lines of the Korean War.
“I like to joke that I joined the Navy because I didn’t like the idea of the infantry,” he said. “What happened? I ended up there.”
He spent much of his time at high elevation but, this time, he was on the front lines of battle, attending to the wounds of Army infantrymen and marines.
“I was the first-aid man in the platoon,” he said.
Miller served for one year in the conflict between North and South Korea.
“That was kind of a small tour of duty for most of us,” Miller said. “I think what (U.S. troops) are going through today is a whole lot worse than what we went through.”
In December 1950, Miller’s unit was ordered to remove enemy Chinese fighters from the mountainside east of Funchlin Pass. Over the next few days, Miller and his men would encounter steady subfreezing temperatures and blizzard conditions that pared the ranks of his platoon by dozens of men because of frostbite.
Extreme cold weather presented some challenges for Miller. If there was a silver lining to the weather, it was that he could stabilize wounds on the battle field more easily than if it were a warmer climate — including his own.
Miller said he was hit by a mortar shell that burned his skin. Yet he still managed to pull a badly injured soldier from an embankment and drag him up the mountain for treatment.
“I was kind of on the edge of hyperthermia myself,” Miller recalled. “That’s why I was able to stay up there after I was hit, because I wasn’t able to feel much pain.”
For his service on that mountain, Miller was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
“What kept me going was I had a bunch of kids from Arizona that never had seen snow,” Miller said. “Some of them, they’d just lay down on me. We had to kick ‘em, slap ‘em to get them moving.”
Miller went on to earn a Bronze Star before his time in Korea was over. He retired in 1959 and spent his professional life working as a radiology technician.
These days, Miller spends much of his time volunteering in the community and helping his wife deal with Alzheimer’s disease.
For years, Miller has been part of a core group of dedicated volunteers at the Bothell-based Northshore Senior Center, where Michele Maneri is volunteer coordinator. She said Miller organized a program there in which people can recycle used cell phones. He’s also served on committees.
“He’s really tried to inculcate an attitude of sharing the knowledge you have, no matter what your background,” Maneri said. “He doesn’t let you off the hook. He likes to remind people there’s a lot of ways to contribute.”