EAST LIVERPOOL - Bonnie Miller, 86, is rightfully proud of her immediate family's impressive military service record, with five brothers, a husband, two sons, a grandson and a great-grandson all serving in the armed forces. What's even more impressive, and surely more important to her, is that nearly all of them made it home safely.
Her youth was a difficult one, as with so many who grew up during the Great Depression. It was made needlessly more so by a neglectful father who eventually abandoned the family altogether when Bonnie was only 6. That left her mother, Myrtle Kirk Torrence, to raise Bonnie and her seven siblings alone during a period of economic ruin. "We had a lot of days when I went to bed hungry," Bonnie said. She praised her mother for doing what she could to keep the family together with alimony payments of $60 per month. "Our rent was $25 and the electric was $10," she says now with a laugh.
Even during the Depression, the $25 left over from that each month was not enough to properly feed and clothe eight children. This prompted Bonnie and her siblings to all find some kind of work young. Bonnie admits that she dropped out of East Liverpool High School three months shy of graduation to pursue a job opportunity at Siff's Shoe Store downtown.
Bonnie Miller is proud of her family's multigenerational commitment to service in America's armed forces, including that of her late husband, George 'Mack' Miller, whose flag she keeps in a place of honor in her East Liverpool home. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
"It was hard, but I just had to," she said.
It was while working on Sept. 6, 1944, that Bonnie was abruptly told that her older brother, Army Staff Sgt. Norman "Merle" Torrence, had been killed in action in southern France. According to a friend who served with him during the war, Merle had gone to detect the source of a suspicious noise over a hill himself rather than sending one of the men he commanded. He was dragged into a cave to wait out the firefight, but Merle didn't make it.
Thankfully, it was not an experience she would have to repeat anytime soon. Her oldest brother, Staff Sgt. Warren "Joe" Torrence, served as an ambulance driver from 1942 to 1945, with deployments in north Africa, Italy and during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
Another brother, Seaman Bill B. Torrence, also returned home safely following service with the Navy in the Pacific Theater. His deployment was not without its own bit of trauma, though. According to Bonnie, it was Bill's unfortunate duty to announce over his ship's PA system that President Franklin Roosevelt had died on April, 12, 1945 - which happened to be Bill's birthday.
Meanwhile, the man who would become her husband, Cpl. George "Mack" Miller, spent the duration of the war as an Army medic in the Pacific. He was awarded a Bronze Star for performing an emergency battlefield cricothyrotomy, using a hollowed-out pen to open a breathing passage for a wounded soldier.
When the war trumpets sounded again in the early 1950s, Bonnie's younger brother, Richard F. Torrence, answered the call. He served as a tank driver with the mechanized cavalry during the Korean War. The youngest of her brothers, Robert Torrence, was an Army MP stationed in Germany from 1956 to 1958 during the Cold War.
It was a discomforting coincidence for Bonnie that the son whom she had named Merle, in honor of her brother who had been killed in World War II, was maimed in Vietnam. Bonnie says Merle considers himself lucky to have survived the enemy ambush that claimed half of his foot, but also killed two of his comrades. "He said, 'Mom, it could have been me,'" she recalls. He was rotated home with a Purple Heart in 1971.
Bonnie was plain about her relief that her second son, Cpl. Bruce Miller, was stationed stateside with the Army as an illustrator at Vint Hill Farms Station in Virginia. "When Bruce didn't have to go, I was glad," she said. However, she remains miffed about how he was called up for duty shortly after being hired by Marvel Comics. There a few issues of Spider-Man from the early 1970s that list Bruce Miller as an illustrator.
The family tradition continued when Merle Jr's son, Jason Miller, served as a sergeant with the Army, stationed in Panama from 1991 to 1999, living in East Liverpool today. Now, it's Jason's son, and Bonnie's great-grandson, Devon Miller, who carries the tradition forward, serving as a corporal at Fort Wainwright in Alaska.
Today, her family's unbroken record of service to the country remains a source of great pride. Despite the sadness that remains of her brother's death so long ago, Bonnie recognizes how fortunate she is, with families who have lost so many more of their loved ones to war. Her thoughts return to her struggling mother, the family that she reared under such difficult circumstances, and the stars that hung in the window so many years ago.
"I just wish my mother could be here to join in, because she was very proud, too," Bonnie said.