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World War I Correspondence Collections in the Veterans History Project

Ewing Harry Miller

Miller in uniform. Ewing Harry Miller Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Units: 481st Aero Construction Squadron; 356th Infantry Regiment
Branch of Service: Army
Rank: First Lieutenant

"I remember writing you once that I expected to be home by the middle of March, but here I still am." (Typewritten letter to his brother Warren Miller, 3/13/1919)

Born May 2, 1890, in Terre Haute, Indiana, Ewing Harry Miller obtained an architecture degree at the University of Pennsylvania prior to his military service, and went to work as an architect with his brother Warren Miller. On August 27, 1917, as he awaited the train bound for Fort Benjamin Harrison, he wrote in his diary, "Civilian life is approaching its final stretch." Commissioned as a First Lieutenant in late November 1917, he departed for France in March 1918, where he served until July 1919 with the 481st Aero Construction Squadron, a unit responsible for construction of facilities such as airfields and airplane hangars. He spent most of his time with the 481st serving as a construction officer; in the fall of 1918, he was assigned to the Flying Officers School for training as an aerial observer, an aircrew member in charge of reconnaissance.

In addition to his diary, military papers, and original photographs from his time in the service, Miller's collection includes 28 letters and postcards, the majority written by Miller to his brother and business partner, Warren. His passion for architecture is evident through his correspondence, even—perhaps especially—in the letters he wrote while he was stationed in France. Particularly after the armistice, his professional pursuits loomed large in his mind, and he petitioned for an early release in July 1919, so that he could return to Terre Haute and assume his place in the family firm.

Tragically, Miller's life and career was cut short only a few years after his return from France, when he died suddenly of appendicitis in July 1923. His son, Ewing H. Miller II (AFC/2001/001/102421), was born a few months later, and grew up to become a renowned architect much like his father.

Training in "varied parts of the country"

Miller began his military training in the fall of 1917 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, less than 100 miles from his hometown of Terre Haute. His missives posted from there contain scant details about training, focusing mostly on queries to his brother about packages sent by his family, the payment of various personal bills, and the hometown activities of various acquaintances. About his trench warfare training, he commented, "[It] was a great success as far as keeping you awake and making you uncomfortable was concerned, but for actually learning how to fight I can learn much more from the Saturday Evening Post every week" (Letter to Warren, 10/1/1917).

After he received his commission as a First Lieutenant, Miller was transferred to Camp Funston in Kansas. Once again, his letters do not reveal much about the day-to-day routine of camp life, though his last letter of 1917 mentions a recent quarantine of the company due to diphtheria. A diary entry on Tuesday, February 5, 1918 records a red-letter day: "Memorable day in my life, when I received [a] telegram from Adj. Gen. telling me to report to Morrison, Va [sic] with Aviation Section. I'm wondering if that means overseas duty!" Miller's guess was correct; from the embarkation point at Morrison, Virginia, he departed for France in early March. Two days before he sailed, on March 2, 1918, he wrote to his brother:

I have tramped Virginia roads past old fashioned white washed Southern houses—roads that Washington tramped with his half drilled troops. And Lee and his Confederates—much loved here—have hiked along these same roads past these same houses and judging by appearances the houses have the same white wash. When you think of it my short military career has shown me some varied parts of the country; Benjamin Harrison in local Indiana; Funston so large and open, so much sky and so few houses; now Virginia, old quaint and whitewashed houses with green trees, covered with creepers, around them. But these all fade in interest beside the places to which we are going—the one big thing is to get there and do our little part whatever it may be. The men are all anxious,—the spirit is fine.

"My fingers surely itch to get at it again"

Miller, 2nd from left, with 3 members of his unit, France. ca. 1918-1919. Ewing Harry Miller Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

In his diary, Miller recorded his thoughts and feelings as he sailed for France in early March 1918: "I saw the last lights of the U.S.A. grow dimmer and finally disappear; everybody, myself included, is in the best of spirits, but with the disappearance of those lights maybe I realized a little more how little we all know of what we are going up against."

These doubts evaporated upon his arrival in France, which he found to be a place of great beauty. Censorship restrictions prevented Miller from saying much about his official duties, and thus he often used his letters to remark on the sights and scenery. His first piece of extant correspondence following his arrival, a postcard written to his relative Edna Miller, indicates that he was immediately struck by the landscape; as he wrote, "Have seen quite a bit of the country and don't blame the the French for being artistic with a country like this to live in."

Indeed, for a newly-minted architect like Miller, France was filled with marvels. His diary is awash with descriptions of chateaus, bridges, and cathedrals; on April 7, 1918, he notes that he has seen his "first real church." Perhaps because Warren was not only his brother, but also a professional associate, architecture was a frequent topic of conversation in Miller's correspondence. In a letter to Warren on August 14, 1918, he notes that he may soon send home a collection of picture postcards documenting his observations of French architecture:

"I may send a collection of postcards home pretty soon—Very carefully collected ones for architectural purposes and covered with notes that I jotted down at the time. Now if I do send these I want you to use them if they will be any service but I'd like to have you keep them separate from all other postcard collections until I get home."

Unidentified building in France. Ewing Harry Miller Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Later on, in February of 1919, he describes a trip to Belgium and lamented the architectural destruction he witnessed.

Following the armistice, Miller became increasingly impatient to resume his professional activities. As he wrote to Warren on January 24, 1919, "Gee I surely have no great pleasure then when I can again be back drawing in the office. My fingers surely itch to get at it again." In the early summer of 1919, he petitioned for an immediate return to the United States, arguing that his return home would ultimately be of more benefit to the government than his continued service overseas:

"I am a member of the firm of Johns and Miller, Architects,; that owing to a revival of the building industry in the vicinity of Terre Haute, Indiana, our firm now has an opportunity of establishing itself in said community, but that in order to successfully carry out the business, my return to the firm is urgently requested in view of the fact that my position was that of designer and detailer. I might also state that I am now doing work in the A.E.F. that requires no architectural knowledge, while my services at home would be more valuable to the Government in ultimately giving employment to many returning men."

Miller's request was apparently granted, as he was discharged from the Army in early August, 1919.

"There is so little I’m at liberty to write about!"

On September 26, 1918, Miller wrote in a postcard to his father, "Just a card because there is so little I’m at liberty to write about! I have had no mail once leaving my old organization—Hope it doesn’t take much longer. Please keep up your good letters even if mine are short during this period for I’m anxious to know all that is happening." His situation—limited in what he could share about his own circumstances, but desperate for continued communication from home—was a familiar one to many servicemen and women stationed in France. Below is a sampling of the topics that Miller found suitable to include in his correspondence, ranging from a new unit assignment to a raucous New Year's Eve party and plans for the future.

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