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One Of The First Female Soldiers To Join The Army During World War II Has Died
When Helen Miller became one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II, she promised her parents she wouldn’t volunteer for overseas duty.
Still, she stepped forward when the Army needed women soldiers in England to support the D-Day invasion. The Woodbury woman later appeared in an Emmy-winning documentary about her military service.
In her 90s, she became a blogger with thousands of followers interested in her stories about a full life and active aging.
Miller died June 17 in a Woodbury hospice. She was 96.
Throughout her life, Miller responded to challenges with a cheerful resiliency. She was born in a house on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and moved 19 times as a child, according to her son, David Christiansen. As a young woman, she survived a life-threatening case of scarlet fever. Later in life, she survived breast cancer.
“I’m a tough old bird!” she wrote of herself.
“She has been a tested soul,” said Margaret Wachholz, a friend. “She was like Teflon. No matter what happened to her, she bounced back.”
Face Aging MNHelen at a ceremony in 2015 where she was honored with a grassroots advocacy award for her work with Face Aging MN.
During World War II, Miller joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), a pioneering unit created in 1942. It was the first time women who weren’t nurses were allowed to serve in the Army.
Miller was shipped to Great Britain on the Queen Mary, a passenger liner converted to troop ship, which zigzagged across the Atlantic to dodge U-boat attacks.
She was stationed in the U.S. Army Air Forces 8th Fighter Command headquarters outside London, where she helped plot the position of Allied fighter planes on missions to Europe, including D-Day. “She just wasn’t really afraid of anything,” her son said.
Discharged after nearly three years, she returned to St. Paul and married a Navy veteran named Leo Christiansen. Their two sons both served in the military.
After her first husband died in 1979, she remarried in 1983 to George Miller. He died in 2009.
When she moved into the Woodbury Senior Living facility, she threw herself into activities including painting, playing poker and planning and performing in skits. She followed the Twins and rooted for a Tiger Woods comeback. An avid golfer, she hit a hole in one when she was 70. She was in her 90s when she caught a 31-inch northern pike.
“She engaged in life wholeheartedly and also lightheartedly,” Wachholz said.
In 2014, Miller’s story was included in a television documentary called “Women Serving In War” that was produced by Twin Cities Public Television and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Seventy years after her Army days, she could still sing the WAC marching song about their symbol, Pallas Athena, Greek goddess of war. The show won a regional Emmy.
“I absolutely loved her,” said producer Stephanie Halleen.
“She kind of liked her 15 minutes of fame. She wasn’t bashful at all,” Christiansen said.
In 2016, she started “Helen’s Corner,” a blog about her life on the Face Aging MN website. It was followed by 10,300 people, Christiansen said.
In a Face Aging MN video recorded near the end of her life, Miller said, “There’s not much of me left, but what’s left is still kind of feisty.”
Besides her son David, of Oakdale, survivors include another son, Dan Christiansen, of Woodbury; a sister, Georgia Adkins, of Inver Grove Heights; seven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Services have been held.
©2018 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Secretary Robert Wilkie called an allegation of sexual assault at the VA 'unsubstantiated.' Investigators say it's not.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General pushed back against Secretary Robert Wilkie last week, after Wilkie called an allegation of sexual assault in a D.C. facility "unsubstantiated."
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.
In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.
Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.
The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.
There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.
At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.
When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.
Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)
As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.
In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.
"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.
"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."
The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.
There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.
The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.