Earned in Blood

Earned in Blood

My Journey From Old-Breed Marine to the Most Dangerous Job in America

Book - 2013 | 1st ed.
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Born in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia in 1919, Thurman Miller was the sixteenth of eighteen children in a family so poor, the local coal miner's kids looked down on them. His father was a subsistence farmer and it was rare for the Miller family to have enough food for everyone. But for Thurman, Appalachia was not just a region: it was a culture, a frame of mind, a being. Fighting, playing, and hiding in the hills would soon serve him well.

In 1940 he enlisted and served in World War II with the legendary unit K-3-5 of the First Marine Division. He was involved in some of the most horrific and famous battles in the Pacific Theater, including Guadalcanal and New Britain, where as Gunny Sergeant he sent men to their deaths and narrowly escaped it himself. From harrowing battlefield experiences to the loss of comrades, his powerful combat experiences would stay with him forever. Upon returning stateside, he taught at the prestigious Officer Candidate School at Camp Lejeune, preparing young officers for the horrific battles to come on Okinawa and Iwo Jima. After the war, suffering badly from the malaria and other diseases he contracted in the Pacific and unable to find work, Miller took a job in the coal mines in his home state of West Virginia, where he toiled in darkness for thirty-seven years. The blackness of the mines fed the terrors he lived with since the battlefield and the backbreaking labor ate away at his already compromised body. Bowed but unbroken, Miller survived because of his strength and lifelong devotion to his beloved wife of sixty-five years--a relationship that shines brightly in this distinctly American journey.

With uncommon wisdom, intelligence, and humility, this member of the Greatest Generation spins a gripping tale through peace and war, work and family, love and redemption across ten tumultuous decades.

Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2013.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781250004994
Branch Call Number: 940.5426 MILLER
Characteristics: xvii, 275 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm


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Oct 11, 2018

Thurman Miller joins the ever-growing number of members of the Greatest Generation who, as they edge into their 90’s, have been anxious to share their wartime experiences while they are still able to do so. His book joins “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa” by Eugene Sledge; “Helmet For My Pillow” by Robert Leckie; “Guadalcanal Diary” by Richard Tregaskis; and most recently “Islands of the Damned” by R.V. Burgin in telling the story of jungle/island warfare in the South Pacific, particularly the involvement of the First Marine Division.

It was a type of warfare which, with the exception of minor actions in Central America and the Caribbean in the 1920’s and 1930’s and in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in the Philippines after 1898, had no precedent in the annals of the USMC, in terms of both the nature of the land on which it was fought, and the fanatical nature of the enemy against whom the Marines (and Army troops as well) were pitted. Miller, because of his background growing up in the backwoods of West Virginia, and because he was already somewhat of a veteran (having joined the USMC in 1940) was better prepared than many of his fellow Marines for a type of combat in which individual initiative and the ability to improvise often made the difference between victory and defeat, or life and death. Nevertheless, even he was hard-pressed to cope with the savagery of the Japanese enemy (as seen by the massacre of the Goettge patrol) and the extreme demands that the Guadalcanal and New Britain campaigns would make on his body, mind and spirit. It was not easy for him, as a gunnery sergeant, to order men to their deaths and listen to the piteous cries of the wounded and dying; or to wake up in his hammock to find himself webbed over, and, lurking underneath the hammock, a spider the size of a saucer.

As with many veterans, the aftereffects of Miller’s traumatic wartime experiences remained with him even into his old age. He battled recurring, crippling bouts of malaria which made it difficult for him to remain steadily employed in the coal mines of his home state; nightmares of jungle combat and the deaths of many friends; “survivors’ guilt” as to why he was able to come home, and so many others did not; and the inability to stop hating. The most touching parts of the book are the descriptions of how his wife of 62 years, Recie, was able to help him overcome these obstacles and finally, after many years, live at peace with himself and others. Cultivating a plot of land and growing a few crops every summer turned out to be a healing experience for him because it involved the creation of new life rather than the sowing of death; meeting a young Japanese boy (who accompanied Miller’s youngest son back from camp one summer) with a feeling of hope and optimism for the future, and none of the old hatred, made Miller realize that the hatred was no longer necessary. And the reader of his account cannot but share in that feeling of redemption.


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