Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 28, 2012

Terry Wooten: WWII soldier's story told in poems

BY TERRY WOOTEN, Poet bard
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---- — Jack Miller, a survivor of the Bataan Death March and a POW during World War II, won't be in any Memorial Day parades today. He died on March 28 at 92. For the past 10 years Jack was one of my best friends.

The poems are from my book "Lifelines," written in Jack's and his wife Leda's words. They were married for 70 years, and newlyweds when Jack sailed off to the Philippines. Leda waited for him to come home for four years.

To write the book we had to relive some nightmares. Jack said, "Years later I'd wake up all sweaty. The dreams were always accurate and matched reality. The nightmares stopped when I started talking about it."

Jack denied being a hero. He thought that word is used way too often. He was just trying to survive and ignore what reality was.

On the domestic front he deserved the highest award for citizenship. From talking to Jack's family it's clear he privately dealt with post-traumatic stress or "soldier's heart" for the rest of his life. He never let it define him. Jack's family enjoyed a good brother, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and uncle.

What impressed me most about Jack Miller was his humanity, his dignity, his lack of bitterness and his great sense of humor. He was a trickster, and that was his gift to all the people who knew him.

Jack Miller is buried at Clearwater Township Cemetery a couple miles southeast of Rapid City.

It's a beautiful little place tucked in the Rapid River Valley. He rests a few miles from his childhood home on Miller Road near Torch River Bridge.

The gun salute and taps are over. Jack can sleep peacefully on the other side of the world from Bataan, Camp Cabanatuan and Setetsu Steel Mill where he was a slave laborer for two years. He was lucky. Of the 25,000 young servicemen in the Philippines before Pearl Harbor, only 12,000 made it home.

We Got Over It

After I got out of the hospital,

Leda and her girlfriend chauffeured me north

in her 1933 Ford Coup

through Michigan to Elk Rapids.

After the hugs

it was almost embarrassing.

Nobody knew quite what to say.

It felt almost like we were strangers,

except we were family.

I hadn't been in Michigan

for five years

and wasn't the same person.

The small talk was hard at first.

Bad memories

kept sliding in between the words.

That went on for a while

but we got over it.

It sure felt good here

on the other side of the world.

I wasn't feeling well

for a long time,

but didn't talk about it.

Today they have people to counsel you,

but there wasn't any of that back then.

We just went on thinking,

"That's the way it is.

Glad to be back."

I coached high school baseball

the spring after I got home.

If I'd told people

what happened

nobody would've believed me.

They'd thought I was pulling

on their chain.

But it did happen.

A Thousand Times

It's all over

now except

for occasional nightmares.

The bad dreams

happened quite often at first.

I've been captured in my sleep

a thousand times

since the end of the war.

Only difference lately

is if I get captured

my wife and kids and grandkids are with me.

It doesn't bother me to talk about it

and I'm not bitter.

The Japanese now

are a lot different people

than they were back then.

A Hero?

I don't think of myself as a hero.

Don't know what I did

that would've made me a hero.

To say I feel I was a part of history "¦the way I figure,

if somebody brings the Bataan March up,

I can say I was there

and that's about it.

Everybody is a part

of some kind of history

somewhere along the line

because of where

you happen to be.

I'm just happy that I made it back

when so many did not.

As for the fact

that I was there,

I was sent there.

I didn't volunteer.

I might not

have made it into the military,

and got run over by a car.

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 28 years. He is the creator of Stone Circle. Learn more about him at www.terry-wooten.com.