Carl Miller Park named after fallen WWI hero

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Carl Miller was the first of eight soldiers from Mountain Home that died in combat during the first world war. A park on American Legion Boulevard was named in his memory.

This article is the second in a series prepared by Hiler that will focus on the background of several parks located in Mountain Home.

The fog of an early autumn dawn blanketed the city of Mont Blainville, France, the morning of Sept. 26, 1918. It was so far away from home for people like Carl Miller, who lay restlessly as he absorbed the quiet that followed a three-hour artillery bombardment.

A year ago, he was working in downtown Mountain Home. He remembered seeing each train as it pulled into the depot and often wondered where all those people were going. His friends would often stop by from high school to say hello. Standing five-feet, seven inches tall, Miller was known as an athletic, scrappy ballplayer.

That was then. Today, his feet were soaked from the heavy rain that fell the night before. The artillery shells had torn the trenches and French roads to nothing.

Sept. 27, 1918

As the sun burned away the morning fog, the war began again. It was now the morning of Sept. 27, 1918. Capt. Joseph Cornell led Miller and the rest of Company D to the crossroads south of Mont Blainville.

They looked up at the village perched on the bluff of the hill pointing like a finger toward the Aire River, and the firing had started again. The German machine gun nests stalled the advance. No man dared to walk into their range.

Staying low, the U.S. soldiers were on the road that came from the east and headed up the bluff to the village. Lieutenant Flinn took his most trusted platoon from the company. They eased up behind the last three Boche dugouts. The American soldiers threw their grenades into the nests with the precision of major league pitchers.

The efforts of Flinn and his men opened a huge hole in the German lines at Mont Blainville in the Argonne Forest. Word raced back to I Corps headquarters, and reserve battalions began to march toward the hole in the front. Suddenly, the Americans knew they were going to win the war.

It's possible that Carl began thinking about his mom and dad back in Mountain Home and all of the basketball games that he played in high school as his company advanced across the Mont Blainville Plateau to the ravine that separated the hills.

Sept. 28, 1918

It was almost noon on the morning of Sept. 28, 1918, and the men of Company D of the 158th were coming up out of the ravine to begin the battle for the Apremont Plateau. They were at the head of the American First Army advancing in the Argonne Forest in what would be the last battle of the Great War. It was a hard, hot autumn morning.

Their advance came to an immediate halt as Private Jennings was slammed back and down to the ground. A machine nest located higher up on the hill swept the front of advancing troops.

Miller was with the third group of stretcher bearers trying to get Jennings on the stretcher and back to the trench. Two other groups had died trying to do the same.

Carl Miller never made it back to the trench.

A machine gun round found its mark, punching through his lung and out his back. Moments later, Carl Miller died before he was able to rescue his fallen comrade, becoming the first soldier from Mountain Home to die in the Great War that would later become known as World War I.

The life of Carl Miller

Carl Ansel Miller, the youngest of three sons of Adam M. and Anna Bell (Guy) Miller, came to Mountain Home from Keystone, Neb. With the railroads coming to southern Idaho, it brought with them plans for irrigation and agriculture, mining as well as cattle and sheep ranching in areas like Elmore County.

Miller came from a military family. His uncle, William Miller, enlisted in 1864 with the Indiana Infantry during the Civil War. But that war was nothing compared to the Great War, which erupted the afternoon of Aug. 4, 1914, as the first German soldiers crossed into Belgium.

After the United States entered the conflict, men across Elmore County volunteered to serve. Bennie Bruce and Harry Isaacs became the first to sign up with Charley Maxwell and Medric Labbee quickly following. Within a week, the number of local enlistees stood at more than a dozen. Between 1917 and 1918, 389 people from Elmore County had enlisted -- about 10 percent of the county's total population at the time.

Before he enlisted, Miller worked as a clerk for Montgomery Blunk & Co. at 290 Main Street where Lane's Appliance and TV is now located. He registered with the draft on June 5, 1918, and left home 19 days later.

Off to war

Miller attended military training at Camp Lewis for six weeks and became part of the 32nd Company, 8th B.M. before he transferred to Company D, 158th Infantry at Camp Kearney, Calif. From there, he traveled to Camp Mills, New York, and sailed for Europe on Aug. 12.

He was one of many U.S. soldiers that were immediately sent to fight on the front lines. He served as a stretcher bearer and would stand at the back of the field. When signaled, he ran with another soldier to an injured combatant and carry them back to safety.

Stretcher bearers were often targeted by German soldiers.

A letter addressed to Miller's mother from his company commander gives an account of his death. The letter wasn't found until 1920 and reads as follows.

FRANCE, December 13, 1918

Mrs. Miller:

It is with sorrow; yet again it gives me pleasure to tell you that your son died a hero, in attempting to rescue a fallen comrade, after three other men of our company had been wounded trying the same.

Carl had been with us a short time, and I had detailed him as a "stretcher-bearer." He was faithfully executing his duty when instantly killed September 28th, 1918.

I myself was wounded September 28th,, and the lieutenant commanding the company at that time has given me all details and has also sent recommendations to the general about Carl's bravery in action.

All soldiers of the A.E.F. who died here are now buried in the same cemetery and each grave definitely marked, so that there will be no trouble in identifying and sending back home the bodies of those who paid the "Supreme Price." On September 28th, we were fighting in the Argonne Forest, near the town of Mt. Blainville.

I am very truly yours,

Capt. Joseph P. Cornell

Casualties of war

Miller was the first of eight men from Mountain Home that would later lose their lives during the war. Others who made the ultimate sacrifice included Levi Kellogg, Thad Prince and William Miller.

Miller was buried in Flanders Fields, located on the southeastern edge of Waregem, Belgium.

The citizens of Mountain Home were greatly stirred by the news of Carl Miller's sacrifice and resolved that it should not go unhonored. On July 7, 1919, less than a year after his death, the city let out bids for the purchase of $10,000 in bonds to finance the establishment of Carl Miller Park.

Formal dedication

While the park remained a gathering place for the Mountain Home community, it wasn't until the fall of 1961 that it was formally named. In a letter to Mayor Philip W. Gridley, Elmore County Historical Foundation Secretary Myrtle Prentice requested permission to erect a sign identifying Carl Miller Park, which gained unanimous approval from the city council.

Members of the Elmore County Historical Foundation, Inc., gathered at Carl Miller Park on Nov. 13, 1961, to pay tribute to Carl Miller and to officially post the new park marker. During the event, Senator R.M. Wetherell had this to say about Miller:

"Carl Miller gave his life for his country during the Argonne Forest encounter with the German Army. No army in the history of Europe had ever penetrated the Argonne Forest -- the French said it was impossible.

"The American infantrymen, however, proved all were wrong. In 11 days, this force advanced through the Argonne Forest under unbelievable combat conditions... Carl Miller was one of these men."

Note: Hiler is a recreation coordinator with the Mountain Home Parks and Recreation Department, who added that "it is our intentions to erect in the coming months a pictorial memorial at Carl Miller Park in honor of this local hero." Those interested in contributing to this memorial should contact the parks and recreation office at 587-2112.