IN HIS WORDS
World War I veteran’s diary found in Wilkes-barre
Clearing out his late mother-inlaw’s home in Wilkes-barre, George Brown stumbled upon World War I history.
In a shoebox inside the Barney Street home, Brown found a diary his wife’s grandfather, Clarence L. Miller Sr., carried with him in France during World War I.
“Can you envision this? This guy is sitting in his bunker getting shelled at, writing this, not knowing if anyone is ever going to read this,” Brown said.
Today marks 100 years since the end of World War I when the Allied Powers signed an armistice on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
Armistice Day has been celebrated annually around the world on Nov. 11 for much of the last century. Following World War II and the Korean War, Nov. 11 was renamed Veterans Day in the United States.
Brown thinks his discovery of Miller’s World War I diary was extra special because of the theme of this year’s Wyoming Valley Veterans Day Parade is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
A former Wilkes-barre councilman, Brown is vice president of the parade committee.
“It is an amazing piece of history. Now we have some local history of someone who fought in the battle,” Brown said. “It ties in perfectly for our parade theme for this year.”
Miller, then a bookkeeper who lived on South Welles Street in Wilkesbarre, was drafted into the Army in July 1917.
Most of Miller’s diary documents his training stops and then each time he arrived in a new town in France.
But that changed on Oct. 8, 1918 when his unit engaged Germans near the town of Chatel Chéhéry.
“Went up into the lines Oct. 8. Rested the night before on the side of a hill. In the morning, quite heavy shelling. No doubt Jerry knew we were there,” Miller wrote.
Jerry was a nickname American troops used for Germans. So was Fritz.
Miller later wrote about a near-death experience during another German shelling.
“It was at this place that I had my closest call. A shell landed directly outside of the hole where our phone was stationed. The heat of this I felt right through the ground and Craig and myself were covered with dirt. Shortly after this, our line of communications went out,” Miller wrote.
Miller wrote about how he was tasked to go out in the battlefield and repair the communication lines.
Several days later, his unit entered the town of Saint Juvin.
“Things were a little quiet before this but as soon as the boys had climbed onto the hill, the Germans immediately thrown over a barrage, but our boys moved on. From my relay station, through a spyglass, I could see things very clear. It was not long before I could see German prisoners walking down the road, many of them carrying our wounded on stretchers. My, what a sight,” Miller wrote.
On Nov. 11, 1918, the day the war ended, Miller wrote he was going on a seven-day leave.
Brown said he could “sit for hours and read his diary about what he went through.”
Other mementos found in the shoe box were Miller’s pay log — he earned $36.60 per month — and a letter from a French woman he met during the war.
Miller and the woman became friends and pen pals. She called him, “My dear little American soldier.”
“France appreciates everything you boys have done in helping save her country from complete ruin by a foe that knew absolutely no limit,” she wrote. “I trust such a thing will not occur again.”
World War I was billed as “the war to end all wars.”
But Europe and France would again be ravaged during World War II.
Miller died in March 1978 at 82 in Claymont, Delaware.
Miller’s son, Clarence Jr., and his wife, Elizabeth, lived on Lockhart Street in Wilkes-barre for many years before moving to Barney Street. Clarence died in 2014, while Elizabeth died in December 2016.
Their daughter, Maryanne, and Brown married 45 years ago.
While cleaning out his mother-in-law’s home, Brown found the shoe box containing Miller’s war mementos.
“As I looked through Clarence’s diary, I tried to understand what went through his mind and how he enlisted to fight in what was supposed to be ‘the war that would end all wars.’ Then, I reflected on how ironic it was that less than 30 years later my father joined the Marines to fight in the Pacific Campaign during World War II,” Brown said. “All I could think about was how these men were the ‘Greatest Generation’ and how thankful we should be to all veterans who have served and are currently serving our country.”
TOP: Clarence Miller’s personal soldier pay record book and various other articles. ABOVE: George Brown discovered the documents while cleaning out his mother-in-law’s Wilkes-barre home.