May 24, 2013
Ray Miller at Alexander Field Photo Gallery (Photos courtesy of Chris Turpin & Andy Jessop)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The final week of the season, Purdue baseball had an opportunity to welcome back a Purdue alumnus and U.S. Army Air Corp veteran for an opportunity to finally take the field as a Boilermaker while throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.
Ray Miller came to Purdue in the fall of 1941 to play baseball for coach Dutch Fehring. A catcher on the baseball diamond, Fehring setup Miller with a job cleaning locker rooms in exchange for meals at the university union. There were no athletic scholarships available to student-athletes in the 1940s. Dec. 7, 1941, changed the world and so too did it change Miller's life. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Miller and his brother, a fellow Purdue student, enlisted in the Army Air Corp. The Miller brothers were enrolled in the Purdue ROTC program and the additional training coupled with their studies left no time for baseball.
In early 1943, Miller was called up for active duty and he left Purdue having never gotten a chance to take the field for coach Fehring and the Boilermaker baseball nine.
In the days leading up to the final series of the 2013 season, Purdue coaches Dave Alexander (past) and Doug Schreiber (present) welcomed Miller and Chris Turpin to Alexander Field for a chance to meet the current team after practice. Miller had met Turpin at the West Lafayette Veteran's Home. Turpin, a Purdue alumna as well as a mother of two Purdue graduates, was serving as a guardian for the first World War II Honor Flight out of West Lafayette when she was paired with Miller and learned of his story.
Along with a tour of the new Alexander Field facilities, Miller shook hands with all of the current players and spoke to the team about his experiences coming to Purdue as well as his military service. Miller returned to the stadium for the Friday, May 17, home game against Iowa. He was recognized before the game and threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
Turpin thanked Alexander and Schreiber for setting up the opportunity for Miller's story to be told to the current group of Purdue players and fans. Turpin described Miller as "one happy warrior" when she drove him home that night.
The Lafayette Gold Star Mothers, of which Turpin is a member, serve as the organizers of the Greater Lafayette Honor Flight. Their mission is to ensure that every Indiana WWII veteran who wants to go see the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., has the opportunity. Turpin's husband Tom is also a professor in the entomology department within the Purdue School of Agriculture.
Ray Miller with his crew in front of their B-17 Flying Fortress. Ray is in the front row, second from left.
The Army Air Corp was a precursor to the U.S. Air Force. Miller joined the pilot training program after being called to active duty in 1943. He became a copilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft. At the age of 20, he was part of a crew that flew across the Atlantic Ocean to England and later into battle in Northern Europe. Miller suffered a serious injury in his second mission and may have bled to death if not for the heroic actions of fellow crew member who was a medical student before the war. After being grounded for six weeks while recovering from the wounds, Miller returned to the skies and was part of 25 bombing missions.
Following the war, Miller returned home with an honorable discharge. After getting married and starting a family in Ohio, he took advantage of the GI Bill and continued his studies at Ohio State University.