More than 60 Kansas WWII veterans, including Carl Mills of Arkansas City, were recently honored during the 75th D-Day Commemoration at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene.
Mills said he received an invitation from the Eisenhower Foundation asking him to attend the June 6 event. He said each veteran was also invited to bring a guest, since many of them were unable to travel by themselves.
“They also invited the ladies who were called Rosie the Riveters,” he said, referring to the label given to women who worked during the war effort. “There were a few of those there, but mostly WWII veterans.”
Mills said special events and activities had been scheduled for the entire week, but he and his grandson, Ryan Rader, only attended the main ceremony. He was impressed with the presentation and said the group was treated with great respect.
“Retired Gen. Richard Meyers was there to give the main address,” he said. “He’s the president of Kansas State University.”
The ceremony also included special music, a roll call for the absent, and concluded with taps and a rifle salute.
Miles said the ceremony was held in front of a statue of Eisenhower, which is between the library and museum. He said the museum was being remodeled, and the veterans were given a preview of the completed areas.
“It was well worth our trip,” he said. “I want to go back when the museum is completed.”
Mills said veterans were also asked to participate in an interview and talk about their experiences. Those recordings will be made available to students who visit the museum.
Although many of the veterans in attendance had not actually taken part in D-Day, Mills said each one had served in WWII. He said he entered the military in March of 1945, after D-Day.
“I joined two weeks before I was 18,” he said. “After basic training, I ended up on a troop ship out of Seattle, and I went to Guam.”
Mills said the Navy had built a special base on the island as a rest and relaxation port for submarine crews. He was there to install a power generator.
“They blasted two swimming pools out of the coral reef and had a gymnasium,” he said. “They also had the only ice cream machine on the island, so I was fortunate to spend time there.”
Mills said he arrived in Guam two weeks after the war ended, but there were still a few Japanese soldiers on the island. He said one soldier hid out on the island for two years before finally learning the war had ended.
Although he was never actually involved in battle, Mills said he also spent time on a minesweeper ship, the USS Pledge. He said sweeping mines was a dangerous job, second only to submarine duty.
Mills recalled a time when his ship was part of a convoy that was escorting a fleet from Honolulu to a port in California. He was in the engine room, and the sea began to get very rough, so he went topside to see what was going on.
“I could see this ship like ours,” he said. “The waves had come clear over the front, and the propellers in back had come out of the sea.”
Mills said those who had served longterm in the Navy told him they had never seen anything like that before.
“Nobody said anything about what the storm was other than it was the roughest thing they had ever seen,” he said.
It wasn’t until 36 years later than he learned what had happened. In the spring of 1982, he and his wife made a trip back to Honolulu for a quarter-horse show and also took a tour of the island.
The tour guide pointed out an area he said had been destroyed by a Tsunami that came out of Alaska in April of 1946 and took many lives.
“That hit me,” he said. “That’s exactly when I was off the coast here, I was never aware of what it was.”
Mills said the island has a memorial for those who died in that storm.